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Looking Back.....


.....to Autumn 1989




The text is reproduced below


Twenty Five years of songwriting: Kath Holden talks to Alan Bell

In June this year, Alan Bell celebrated his 55th birthday and 25 years of songwriting. In spite of being in the middle of programming this year's Fylde Folk Festival, working on a huge master plan to end all master plans, he found the time to speak to me at his home.


KH    How did it all start?

AB    In Nov 1949 at the age of 13 as a member of a cycling club staying at Patterdale YH. I discovered people singing American Scouting and Mountain songs. I was dumbfounded. This led to an interest in the work of Woodie Guthrie and Leadbelly etc. Staying in Fylde mountaineering club's cottage regularly in Little Langdale and hearing the traditional songs of our country sung in the Three Shires Pub and having the opportunity to sing in front of people. This was in the 60's revival

KH    Did you develop this at home?

AB    I was singing with a fellow climber, Brian Osborne, and we formed a skiffle group called 'The Marauders'. I recall we played one gig and had to leave half way through the performance.

KH    But undaunted...?

AB    Two years later Brian and I met Pete Rogers and went down to the Talbot Arms where a folk club in its infancy was being run by a group called The Taverners Three. We became regulars and then the Taverners Five folk club was born. The first guest we ever booked was Alex Campbell - for £5. I also have a magical tape of the Ian Campbell folk group's visit in 1963. You can even here the buses outside!

KH    Had you started writing at this time?

AB    Well the Taverners evolved in the early 60's - Big Pete Rodger, Stu Robinson, Brian and myself. We were touring throughout the UK making records and numerous radio and TV appearances, constantly asked to do songs from the North West and finding very little traditional material. I began with songs such as 'The Packman' and 'Windmills'. I also put together a radio ballad of  the Settle and Carlisle railway for the BBC. It took about a year and then I was told the whole programme concept had gone away. The only remaining song today is 'Alice White'.

KH    So that was the end of that?

AB    Far from it. Out of the original concept came a series of ten programmes called Ballads of the North West. A few years later the band met Douglas Boyd from BBC TV. I dug out the radio scripts and ended up doing 7 or 8 programmes for him writing songs all the time.

KH    And the Taverners?

AB    We had continued working throughout this time, made 6 records etc and after the 1981 Royal Command Performance in Blackpool decided to call it a day. Brian and Pete had both made solo records, Stu came with me and we formed The Alan Bell Band to sing my songs.

KH    Do you write exclusively for the Band?

AB    Oh no. 'The Band in the Park' suite, which started off as one song about my Uncle Jack Brown developed as a result of some persuasion and scoring from local music teacher Ged Higson and arrangement for Poulton Silver Band by Chris Pollington. Uncle Jack was a droll character. In the last verse of the song he's dead, and after the first performance in his presence he said 'Listen you old bugger - I'm not bloody well dead yet! He did pass away quietly. The suite won the International radio award for regional radio in Europe for Radio Lancashire in 1983. It's lodged in the American Archives of Regional Life which is rather nice.

KH    Do you enjoy hearing others perform your work?

AB    Johnny Collins sings 'Key above the door' which is just pure nostalgia for me. Fair stood the wind is now sung on the East coast of America down to Cape Cod. The greatest satisfaction is to walk into a club and hear someone singing your song.

KH    Did you find 'Wind, Sail, Sky and Sea' a particular challenge?

AB    Very much so. Writing for a choral society is very different but I enjoyed it and I hope 'Lakeland Suite' which is not fully scored yet will be performed by the local Choral Society during the next year.

KH    And now the song book - what took you so long?

AB    Purely finance. Although Christina and I founded Tamlyn Music and copyright all to the same, it never made money. It was simply there for our protection. We managed to get things together for my 25 years of songwriting and after this year's festival we'll go for the big push.

KH    Talking of the festival, how did it get underway?

AB    Well actually it started with fellow drinkers at the Catford in Little Eccleston deciding to have a daft weekend walking the length of the River Wyre, and ending with a concert in the North Euston Hotel, Fleetwood. The annual 'Wyre Walk' famous and marriages and unmarriages were consummated on the walk. One year we booked Mike Harding in the Marine Hall and thanks to hundreds of non-folkies, we made a financial gain. From then it's gone on and on - like Topsy it just keeps growing.

KH    And what does the future hold?

AB    The Alan Bell Band in its current form, Stu, Kevin Whelan, Bernie Brewin and myself have spent the last year working on arrangements and producing what we think is a nice tight sound. We hope next year to do more club and concert gigs and are working on a new album. I am going through another writing phase but we hope to include unrecorded songs like 'Key above the door' and 'Song for Mardale'. Producing that myself is very exciting. It's just one of those things you have to do to keep going in your old age!


I had a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining evening with Alan and this interview is just the bare bones. Space does not permit more. I for one wish him all the best for the next 25 years. 


Lets go back ten years from this issue to a time when the magazine, still in its infancy, but looking forward to bigger and better things ran a regular article called Club of The Month.......


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