Music Sound the bells A blend of soaring vocals and Fairport Convention melodies, Stewart Smith chats to Trembling Bells founder Alex Neilson about their haunting folk-rock



✽✽ Trembling Bells See preview, left. (Oran Mor, Glasgow, Fri 21 Jan). Other highlights from the Celtic Connections programme include politicised songstress Ani di Franco (02 ABC, Thu 20 Jan), Balkan gypsy troupe Taraf de Haidouks (Old Fruitmarket, Sat 22 Jan) and ex-Czars man John Grant (St Andrews in the Square, Sun 30 Jan). Various venues, Glasgow, until Sun 30 Jan. (Folk, Celtic Connections) ✽✽ Mogwai See feature, page 18. Various dates and venues across Scotland. See listings. (Rock & Pop) ✽✽ Withered Hand, Woodpigeon and de Selby Sure to be special. Canadian- based songwriter Mark Hamilton, aka Woodpigeon (above) reunites with his musical pal from days spent living in Edinburgh, Dan Willson, aka Withered Hand. Hear them duetting on a Velvet Underground cover of ‘I’m Set Free’ at www.woodpigeon- Stereo, Glasgow, Tue 25 Jan. (Rock & Pop) ✽✽ Band of Horses The country-flavoured indie- rockers return. They’ve got a new single ‘Dilly’ out on Valentine’s Day and the biker- and-bandana themed video is currently kicking about YouTube. O2 Academy, Glasgow, Thu 27 Jan. (Rock & Pop) ✽✽ Roxy Music See Five Reasons, page 64. SECC, Glasgow, Thu 27 Jan. (Rock & Pop) ✽✽ The Oates Field, eagleowl and Gummi Bako Limbo presents a triple bill of Fence associates, including a headline performance from The Oates Field, fronted by Alan Oates, or Little Pebble, his other musical alias. The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, Fri 28 Jan. (Rock & Pop) 20 Jan–3 Feb 2011 THE LIST 57

L ast year was a golden year for visionary folk- rockers Trembling Bells, beginning with the release of second album Abandoned Love in the spring and culminating in songwriter Alex Neilson’s nomination for the Arts Foundation Fellowship in Folk Music. (Neilson won at last week’s ceremony at the Southbank Centre.)

‘I have been nominated as an individual. It’s very flattering, and my work is being represented by Trembling Bells at a showcase ceremony. There is stiff competition from the other nominees so to have come this far is an achievement in itself.’

Will and Lavinia [Blackwell] to sing in the near future.’ Neilson is delighted to be asked to perform at Celtic Connections, but is reluctant to be aligned with any one scene. ‘I’ve had a long-term love affair with traditional British folk music but it is just one Godhead in a vast pantheon of interests. It’s as much about Link Wray and John Coltrane as it is about Peter Bellamy, the Copper Family and Joe Heaney. In some ways it feels like folk music was my first serious girlfriend and all my subsequent dalliances are indelibly affected by it.’



Among 2010 highlights, Neilson cites ‘going to Brazil with Trembling Bells. Playing at Bowlie Festival ten years after attending the first as a plukey teenager. Touring with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Playing at Cecil Sharp House [HQ of the English Folk Song & Dance Society] with Shirley Collins and Ali Roberts and teaming up with the female Morris dancing trio Belles of London City’. To end 2010, the band issued a majestic festive single featuring Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band and Will Oldham. ‘The idea for the collaboration came about over an expensive round of drinks in a Danish bar in September. Mike Hastings [who plays with Trembling Bells and Mike Heron] suggested a cover of ‘Feast of Stephen’ and I thought we could pair it up with another seasonally themed song I’d written for our next album (‘New Year Is The Loneliest Time of the Year’) but to make it distinct from the album version I asked Will Oldham to sing it,’ explains Neilson. ‘I’m currently writing a bunch of duets for

These passions are reflected in Trembling Bells’ music, which waltzes with giddy abandon through folk, acid-rock, country, soul and early music. Courtly Renaissance horns, Herb Alpert trumpets and Hastings’ fuzzed out guitar vie for attention with Blackwell’s pure, soaring vocals and a supple rhythm section. With third LP The Constant Pageant due in March, Neilson is excited for the future. Word has it the album ‘is a little more rocking and less ornate’ than the last, but still finds room for new instrumentals, including French horn and oboe. ‘I initially imagined the next album to be more pared down than the last but it’s ended up having a similar degree of orchestration. It’s an attempt to try to synthesise interests in arrangers like Gordon Jenkins [Frank Sinatra] and Cab Calloway. Lavinia has done a great job in scoring the parts and I think it is our strongest set of songs yet.’ Trembling Bells, Oran Mor, Glasgow, Fri 21 Jan, part of Celtic Connections.