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Live Review: Bell X1 with Vita and the Woolf at Lincoln Hall, Chicago – 25th February 2017

By on Wednesday, 1st March 2017 at 2:00 pm

Last weekend, I left sunny Tucson behind for a quick trip to Chicago, and I almost regretted my choice as soon as I stepped off the airplane. After a long stretch of unseasonably warm weather, the Windy City had reverted to its usual for February: cold and, well, windy. Luckily, the gig I was in town for turned out to be well worth both the travel and the winter chill. On Saturday night, downtown Chicago’s Lincoln Hall played host to Irish rock trio Bell X1, who have added a very distinct measure of warmth to their live sound on their current American tour, in support of last October’s LP release ‘Arms’.

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The opening act for the evening, Vita and the Woolf, take their moniker from the romantic affair between early 20th century authors Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. The band Vita and the Woolf are officially a duo consisting of singer and Jennifer Pague and drummer Adam Shumski, but on this particular occasion, they brought along guitarist Dane Galloway as well. With Pague doubling on keyboards, the three of them created a surprisingly full and forceful live sound. Pague’s singing has been compared to that of Florence (+ the Machine) Welch, and while Vita and the Woolf didn’t quite match that heady level of power and mysticism, the potential is certainly there. If that sound is up your street, keep an eye out for Vita and the Woolf’s debut album ‘Tunnels’ later this year.


From the moment Bell X1 first took the stage, it was clear that something different was afoot for them. Bass player Dominic Phillips was situated at the front of the stage, an unusual position for him in my experience, but an effective one as the band opened with a soft-spoken trio version of ‘Bad Skin Day’. The recorded version of this song is quite complex, but the band pared it back to its bare minimum here, and the lyrics and vocal harmonies were notably more exposed.

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The reason for Phillips’ stage positioning became more apparent as the band continued through their naturally ‘Arms’ heavy set list, joined by touring members Rory Doyle on drums and Glenn Keating on keys. The new songs have a deliberately soulful simplicity about them, and a heavy emphasis on the rhythmic groove. Phillips’ bass lines were more in the forefront of the sound, most notably in recent singles ‘The Upswing’ and ‘Out of Love’, which took on more personality in live performance than in their respective recordings. Older favourites ‘Eve, the Apple of My Eye’ and ‘Flame’ were similarly streamlined, and these refined arrangements were both interesting and surprisingly engaging.

My gig mate for the evening described her impression of the show as “like Bell X1 smoking pot”, while I dubbed the sound “r&b twice-removed”. Either way, the predominant mood for the evening was very mellow, a bit slower and more relaxed than I might have expected. This new vibe was perhaps slightly uncomfortable due to its relative novelty, but overall, it’s a good look for Bell X1, and it worked brilliantly in the favourable acoustics of Lincoln Hall. It’s also worth noting here that the overall sound in the venue was fantastic. The volume, for once, wasn’t overwhelmingly loud at the front of the stage, which greatly benefitted the sound clarity of the individual instruments and vocal lines. (Bravo to sound engineer Phil Hayes and the sound crew at Lincoln Hall.)

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They say that time flies when you’re having fun, and this show seemed to fly by quickly for everyone involved. After playing their American hit ‘The Great Defector’, frontman Paul Noonan apparently forgot that it was to be the final song in the set proper. “Oh, yeah, we’re going to play this game,” he said, acknowledging the awkwardness of leaving stage ahead of the perfunctory encore. The band didn’t keep us waiting long before they returned for a gentle version of ‘Careful What You Wish For’. This was followed by an expanded rendition of ‘The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella”, which gave Rory Doyle (who has also toured with Hozier) a perfect opportunity to show off his impressive skill and rhythmic precision on the kit. Bell X1 have found themselves a regular and dependable show closer in ‘The End is Nigh’, whose lyrical question “or will the wrong guy get the codes?” feels somehow more compelling in the present day than it did when the song was released back in 2013.

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Bell X1 will be wrapping up their American tour as this review goes to press, but if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic, keep your eyes open for possible live dates this summer. The band are currently scheduled to play the Summer Series at Trinity College in Dublin on the 8th of July, with Scottish alt-rock band Frightened Rabbit. You can look back at TGTF’s extensive past coverage of Bell X1 through here.

After the cut: Bell X1’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Continue reading Live Review: Bell X1 with Vita and the Woolf at Lincoln Hall, Chicago – 25th February 2017


Album Review: Bell X1 – Arms

By on Tuesday, 18th October 2016 at 12:00 pm

Bell X1 Arms coverFirst impressions can be deceptive. When Irish alt-rock trio Bell X1 released the first single from their new album ‘Arms’, a gentle, optimistic ballad called ‘The Upswing’, way back in March of this year, the song’s warm lyrical tone and organic sonic timbre seemed to refer even farther backward to the band’s 2013 album ‘Chop Chop’. Indeed, around the release of ‘Chop Chop’, Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan had toyed with the idea of creating a pair of mini-albums, so it seemed fair to assume that ‘Arms’ might be a delayed realisation of that concept.

However, the second single from ‘Arms’, a quirky and upbeat number called ‘Out of Love’, immediately turned that idea on its metaphorical head. Laden with strident synths and jarring percussion, the song is musically more experimental and thematically much more cynical, with lyrics like “there’s no D minor telling us how to feel” only adding to the contextual confusion. And as an introduction to the album proper, opening track ‘Fail Again, Fail Better’ makes a deliberately disarming (pun intended) initial statement, with choppy lyrics and fragmented melodies spliced together seemingly without pattern or purpose. But like the very first glimpse of the album, these second and third impressions of ‘Arms’ are gradually revealed to be a bit misleading as well.

The true character of ‘Arms’ is elusive, fluctuating constantly over the course of its tracklisting. Even the individual songs feel indecisive at times, as in ‘Bring Me a Fire King’. The song’s catchy chorus and groovy guitar riff are thrown off kilter by a piercing synth line and an oddly placed sax solo, and Noonan delivers his sarcastic political commentary (“let’s ask what the markets would do / ‘cos markets have feelings too”) in a mild vocal tone that belies the depth of his meaning.

On the flip side of the thematic coin, multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty contributes something of a more personal nature in ‘I Go Where You Go’. His quiet reflection on life away from home is brightened by a shuffling rhythm and a piano melody that shines through the arrangement like the “glint of fool’s gold” in his own opening lines. Nestled between verses, the song’s bridge section cuts to the heart of Geraghty’s internal conflict: “the engines roar / the ground slips away / our children stir in their beds / we leave it all in our wake”.

On every previous Bell X1 album, there has been one song in particular that is so exquisitely poignant that it moves me to tears. ‘Arms’ is no exception to that precedent, ticking off the box with ‘Take Your Sweet Time’. Inspired by a video of a profoundly deaf woman hearing speech for the first time, Noonan has composed an incredibly sensitive musical interpretation, with distortions in the sonic arrangement representing the synthetic quality of electric hearing via cochlear implants, while a lyrical and melodic reference to classic Glen Campbell track ‘Wichita Lineman’ suggests the breathless emotional anticipation of eventually being able to hear music. Have a handkerchief handy when you listen to this one.


Late album tracks ‘Sons & Daughters’ and ‘Fake Memory’ return to a central thematic concern about Western culture and society, observed from a slight distance and framed within the familiarity of personal details. Noonan offers a kind of pre-emptive apology in ‘Sons & Daughters’, which situates his oddly astute pop-culture references (“there were too many distractions and too much good TV . . . there were too many cute pictures and too much in my feed”) in a call-and-response vocal pattern over a bright piano melody and tribal percussion. Recent single ‘Fake Memory’ reflects on our disingenuous tendency to use social media to portray ourselves in a positive light, asking pointedly “where’s me asleep on the table or her not kissing me back?” and warning that “if memory serves you badly, it’s right here on my phone”.

The title ‘Arms’ initially evoked the idea of emotional distance in my mind, especially after hearing the first several songs released discretely and out of context. But several considered listens to the album in its entirety brought me back around to Noonan’s observation from its press release: “As the world feels like it’s becoming a harsher place (maybe there’s just more damn noise?), we seek out the comfort of the familiar and familial . . . arms.” The album’s dual nature is about more than just the band experimenting with their own musical style. There are moments of noise and moments of comfort here, moments of awkward confusion and moments of crystalline clarity, but above all else, an always astonishing sense of musical and emotional authenticity.


Bell X1’s seventh studio album ‘Arms’ is available now via BellyUp Records. The Irish trio have a series of Irish and Northern Irish dates at the end of October into early November. They are also scheduled to play two shows at London’s Islington Assembly Hall on the 11th and 12th of November before heading down under for a tour of Australia in December. A full listing of Bell X1’s upcoming live shows can be found on their official Facebook.


Video of the Moment #2189: Bell X1

By on Wednesday, 21st September 2016 at 6:00 pm

Popular Irish rock trio Bell X1 have finally settled on a release date for their long anticipated next album. ‘Arms’, their seventh album and the follow-up to 2013’s ‘Chop Chop’, will be out on the 14th of October. To celebrate the upcoming release, the band have released the promo video for ‘Out of Love’, created by visual artists Louise Gaffney and Cian McKenna.

Gaffney’s abstract ideas have combined successful in this video via McKenna’s visual artist background and motion-graphic designing. The quirky design of the video reflects well the offbeat nature and almost tropical feel of the Dubliners’ song. Watch it below. In addition to a previously announced dates in London in November and in Australia in December, they’ve also announced four dates in Ireland proper; to view all their upcoming live dates, visit their official Web site.For more on Bell X1 on TGTF, go here.



Video of the Moment #2115: Bell X1

By on Tuesday, 14th June 2016 at 6:00 pm

Irish alt-rock trio Bell X1 are slowly but surely working their way toward the release of their new album ‘Arms’. Back in March, the band released the first single from the album, titled ‘The Upswing’. And now, a mere 3 months later, they have unveiled a new video to accompany the new tune. Directed by Dutch animator Anna Eijsbouts, the video features a gawky but ultimately endearing pair of clay figurines who are shown as working to maintain a relationship through the trials and tribulations of life. The hero and heroine of this short film find their way from a subdued and rather uncertain beginning to a fresh new start built upon a stronger foundation in the video’s final scenes.

Bell X1 frontman and songwriter Paul Noonan has said in the past that “our artwork is something we’ve always thought of as an extension of the music” and that “we’ve had great luck in contacting people and having them come to collaborate, be it video or art or photography.” The collaboration with director Eijsbouts on ‘The Upswing’ is another fortunate and inspired choice. Her animation is unwaveringly faithful to the storyline of the song, and her very literal illustrative representation captures the subdued but hopeful mood of the music quite nicely. But what really makes this video special are the two clay figurine characters themselves. Their facial expressions and physical movements are perfectly in tune with the subtle emotions in Noonan’s lyrics, and their artless charm adds just the right amount of warmth and intimacy to a song that at first came across as mildly hesitant and standoffish.

‘The Upswing’ is set to feature on Bell X1’s forthcoming new album ‘Arms’, which is scheduled for release later this year. The band are scheduled to play two shows around the release at London Islington Assembly Hall on the 11th and 12th of November. TGTF’s previous coverage of Bell X1 is right back this way.



Single Review: Bell X1 – The Upswing

By on Monday, 7th March 2016 at 12:00 pm

Irish indie rockers Bell X1 have just unveiled a new single, the first from their upcoming LP ‘Arms’. The album is slated for release later this year, but new track ‘The Upswing’ follows in the footsteps of Bell X1’s previous album ‘Chop Chop’. Frontman Paul Noonan referenced a sort of “split album” concept around the writing of ‘Chop Chop’ in an earlier interview, and from the sound of the new song, ‘Arms’ may represent the second half of that endeavour.

In looking back on ‘Chop Chop’, a friend of mine described Bell X1’s recent songwriting as “subdued” and I think that’s an accurate interpretation of ‘The Upswing’ as well. The songs seem to be feeling their way around some deeply felt emotional experiences, and there is a slight uncertainty in both the music and the lyrics as the band works to find its footing.

On the surface, ’The Upswing’ is an attempt at reaffirming a relationship, a commitment to sticking together through thick and thin. Its lyrics are an engaging combination of sauciness (“one day we’ll meet trouble halfway / and she’ll say just a taste and I’ll be on my way”) and tender intimacy (“on the table I’m squeezing your hand / and it’s giving me steel / to say now this is how it’s gonna be”), though its most memorable line is probably the quirky Star Wars reference at the end of the first verse.

Those little lyrical peculiarities have become Bell X1’s trademark over the years, and they are matched in the musical arrangement of ‘The Upswing’. The song’s chorus line, “baby, one little push from you, got me on the upswing”, is smooth and instantly catchy, with soothing, seductive vocal harmonies whispering in the background. But it’s worth that Noonan hasn’t been given to affectionate appellations like “baby” in his past songwriting, and it does feel slightly awkward at first. Likewise, the synth and brass instrumentation behind the chorus is subtle, but also slightly off-kilter, giving the song an edge that keeps the intimacy at arms’ length.

Which brings us back to the title of the forthcoming new album, ‘Arms’. It’s hard to say whether Bell X1 had the idea of “intimacy at arm’s length” in mind during the writing process, but it certainly seems to fit, at least as far as this first single is concerned.


Stay tuned to TGTF for more information about Bell X1’s new LP ‘Arms’ as it nears its anticipated release. In the meantime, you can read our archive of Bell X1 coverage right back here.


Double Up and Come Back #1: Paul Noonan of Bell X1 Interview Rewind

By on Friday, 12th September 2014 at 3:00 pm

Last week, Irish art rockers Bell X1 began part 2 of the touring cycle for ‘Chop Chop’, their fifth studio album that was released back in July 2013. When I caught up with frontman Paul Noonan via e-mail a few days ago, he was surprisingly frank about the album’s reception thus far. “To be honest we hoped it would have gotten to more ears by now. When we made the record we had such fire for it, and were aching to get it out there. We love playing so we’re glad to be out again, but we had hoped we’d get to visit a lot more places in the US this second time around.”

In my interview with him from last spring, Noonan talked about the “mentality shift” that went into the making of ‘Chop Chop’, particularly with regard to technical skill and playing the songs live. “We really wanted to do it quickly and mine a little more instinct and intuition and become better musicians.” He emphasised the live aspect of the band’s music as not just the end result, but an important part of the songwriting process. “Initially, actually, we wanted to make two short albums, and call one ‘Chop’ and the other ‘Chop’ and then have some kind of a way of connecting them that they would become ‘Chop Chop’. The time from making a record to it actually getting out is often frustratingly long, and often you spend 6 months or so sitting on a record you’ve made and are burning to get out and play and to bring to people. And so we wanted to make a record and put it out very quickly and then tour that, and then (repeat the cycle)”.

While events didn’t work out exactly according to that plan, circumstances did conspire to highlight a few other dualities surrounding Bell X1 relative to ‘Chop Chop’. The band spent the remainder of last year on the first part of the album’s tour cycle, including the October 2013 live date reviewed here. They then took a brief hiatus, which saw two of the band members working on side projects. Noonan introduced his treble-oriented duet project Printer Clips, which realised the idea of combining two component parts into a single unit. Meanwhile, multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty continued his understated solo work under the new title Join Me in the Pines. Noonan puts the side projects into perspective, saying that they fit comfortably into Bell X1’s current touring schedule. “Musicians and writers have a lot of time to make stuff, or to avoid making it, or to dream up new ideas for one day making stuff. And sometimes the stuff gets made. I suppose the band has become a hub from which lots of other projects have sprung over the years, and long may it continue. Sometimes there’s a clearing of the head required alright, when it comes time to work on new material as a band.”

After a busy start to 2014 with activity from both side projects, this summer saw Bell X1 reunite for a handful of festival dates in Ireland before they embarked on their first-ever tour of Australia in July. Of the antipodean experience, Noonan says, “It’s a hell of a long way down. We’ve been wanting to go for a while, so it was great to finally get there, and for people to show up to the gigs phew! It was a mad, spacey dash around the country in a week.”

Bell X1 began the North American leg of their autumn tour this past Tuesday in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Noonan hints that the set lists for these shows might be less focused on the recent ‘Chop Chop’. “We’ve added a few songs from other records to the pack this time out, it’s been good to get them together. We’ve been juggling various ideas for the set, trying something new every night so far.” Their opening act for the tour is Los Angeles singer/songwriter Gabriel Kahane. If Bell X1’s past support acts, which have included Lyla Foy and Duke Special, are any indication, Kahane should prove to be another undiscovered musical treasure. A full list of North American tour dates can be found on Bell X1’s official Web site.

Looking beyond the completion of their North American dates, Noonan says, “There’s some moonlighting to be done when we get home with the solo/side projects, some shows in Ireland. We’ve been offered some shows in the Middle East in December, so I’m hoping that will happen.” He is also cryptically optimistic about the potential new Bell X1 music in the near future. “We’ve been working on new songs over the summer. It’s been great to feel that thrill of jumping on that train again, glimpses of where the songs might go and what rags they may wear.”

Thanks to Paul Noonan for taking time to answer my questions, and to Foye for facilitating the e-mail exchange.


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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

We love music that has its heart on its sleeve, tells a story, swims around our head all day or makes us dance like no-one's watching.

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