Bell 'n' Arc’s one and only record is a prime cut of early 1970s British rock and roll. Born out of the psychedelic ashes of Skip Bifferty, Bell 'n' Arc saw a reunion of sorts between singer Graham Bell and his former band mates, keyboardist Mick Gallagher and guitarist John Turnbull. Anyone delving into this record expecting the underground freak-beat of that earlier band, however, is in for a rude surprise. This band is an entirely different beast, and even Graham Bell’s singing has undergone some serious evolution since Skip Bifferty sank in 1969.
Heavy threads of American soul music, as well as tasteful touches of gospel and country, are what inform this record more than anything. From the insistent groove of “High Priest of Memphis” to the rollicking banjo rolls in “Keep A Wise Mind,” it is clear what musical traditions these cats are mining. Graham Bell’s vocals here are so soulful it almost hurts, with the obvious reference point being the shredded-throat testifying of fellow countryman Joe Cocker.
Turnbull’s guitar is also on fire, whether he’s indulging in tight wah-pedal workouts in “Let Your Love Run Free” or keeping things beautifully restrained in the band’s sizzling, slow-burn workout of Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne.” In the meantime, I would assert that it is Gallagher’s rhythm piano which seems to be the bedrock of the band’s sound. Each cut displays inspired playing that really seals together the spirit of the band. His concluding improvisations on “Yat Rock” are particularly enjoyable, where he compliments his driving rhythm playing with the occasional Jerry Lee Lewis run.
Side A of this record is one of those rare cases where every song is absolutely killer, and the energy just does not let up. The opening three song punch blows me away every time. By the second side, things start to lose a little steam, but only barely. In fact, “Dawn,” the one acoustic track on the album, is a pleasant, hazy respite from the high-octane rave-ups that surround it. In fact, the guitar dynamics and subdued atmosphere might actually make it a highlight. “Children of the North Prison” draws the band back, and throws out one of the catchiest hooks on the record against a great ascending piano line.
In the years since I first happened on this record, it has slowly but surely become one of my absolute mainstays. It’s hard not to be drawn in to Arc’s tight grooves and Bell’s cosmic rock and roll songs, and I dare say it makes some fantastic road music. Check out the (out-of-print, but easy to find) Rock and Groove Records reissue, or keep your eye peeled for one of the original copies. I should probably note that it looks as though the British and American copies of this one have different artwork; the British record has a bright red cover, with what looks like layered fists.
by Nik Rayne
1. High Priest of Memphis - 3:30
2. Let Your Love Run Free - 6:00
3. Keep a Wise Mind - 3:19
4. So Long Marianne - 3:44
5. She Belongs to Me - 4:29
6. Yat Rock - 6:08
7. Dawn - 3:00
8. Children of the North Prison - 4:15
9. Everyday - 3:53
Bell + Arc
*Graham Bell - Vocals, Harmonica, Acoustic Guitar
*Tom Duffy - Bass
*Michael Gallagher - Piano, Organ
*Rob Tait - Drums
*John Turnbull - Guitars
*Ken Craddock -Guitars, Piano, Organ
*Alan White - Drums, Percussion, Vibes
*Steve Gregory - Tenor Saxophone
*Buddy Beadle - Baritone Saxophone
*John Woods - Percussion
*Jeff Condon - Cornet
1966-1969 Skip Bifferty - The Story of Skip Bifferty