“Collage of madness”

Bell X1 songsmith Paul Noonan talks to the Galway Advertiser about difficult writing, watching a Castlegar gig through binoculars, and becoming a therapist.

Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan (centre) with "grown-ass men" bandmates David Geraghty and Dominic Phillips

Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan (centre) with "grown-ass men" bandmates David Geraghty and Dominic Phillips

It has been 23 years since Bell X1, the inexorably eclectic rock band, first burst onto the Irish music scene. They play Leisureland next Thursday, December 21.

Speaking with the Advertiser, Paul Noonan is suffering from a head cold. It’s Saturday morning, and really he should be in bed. But when the frontman from Co Dublin starts talking about music, it reinvigorates him.

Through subtle pauses in speech, thoughtfully crafted commentary, and a meditative approach to his music, Noonan appears calm and articulate. He explains crafting an album is fraught, but touring is still a treat. He is not a man to get overly excited, or maybe that is just his cold?

“As a band, we do not want to ease into being a heritage act, we want to be vital and we want to make new things," he asserts, strongly.

On the subject of Galway, the Lucan native is resolutely positive: "Galway is an important place for us. We played early gigs in the old Róisín Dubh, where you would hit your head off an old speaker when you were getting on and off stage. We had some beautiful shows in An Taibhdhearc. It feels like there's an organic, supportive music [scene] in Galway."

A visit to Galway in 1996 to watch Radiohead at the Castlegar Sportsgrounds was “formative” for the band, says Noonan. “We had a pair of binoculars so we could see what gear they were using - to see what amps Johnny Greenwood was using. We were total geeks."

Bell X1 is currently touring its newly-released album Merciful Hour, a tour which also retrofits strings into older Bell X1 tunes. It is Bell X1’s first new record in seven years. "We wanted to hit a spooky tone with this album. It really got us into the atmosphere with some medieval, squeaky, atonal music. We wanted to use that as a tone to build songs from."

On recording albums, Noonan provides illuminating insights. He admits Bell X1 bickers, so they often appoint an external adjudicator - a "custodian of the session” – to bring perspective.

"It can get childish in some ways. I mean, we are grown-ass men now, but there is still an element of ‘hey - you cannot tell me what to do’," he laughs. “However if someone is really passionate about an approach, I will always yield to that. That is what makes the best art; not diluted by design by committee."

The ‘creative differences’ conversation can be a cliché, and Noonan is quick to highlight solidarity in his group. "We are a family. Dom (Dominic Phillips ) and I have known each other since we were 12 or 13.”

Having turned 50 this year, Noonan admits the creative process is something he increasingly grapples with. "It comes in waves. If I am struck by something, a thought, something that I have read or that has been said to me, I will write it down or stick it in my phone. I look at this collage of madness and try to make sense of what I have written and fashion them into songs.”

When he was younger, Noonan remembers that songs came to him “more fully formed”. “I tend to have to work a bit more at them now, put myself in the workspace and hammer them out."

The band has been through life events together, for example all having had kids around the same time.

“The band was a singular, burning passion for us in our 20s, now it’s one of the things we do.”

Music Therapy is a newfound passion for the singer/songwriter. "I have long-felt as a lover of music - and a creator of music - that it works on another level for communication and other forms of human connection. It is primal, it makes things more deep-rooted than speech.

“To be honest, I did not know that music therapy was a formal discipline. I started reading about it during Covid, and did the course in UL. It has been great to use music in another form."

Will he ever ditch the artistic life to become a therapist full-time...? "It is one of the things I do now. But I will always make music and perform."

Noonan will perform in Galway next week, alongside his Bell X1 bandmates David Geraghty and Dom Philips. We’ll keep our ears tuned for a bit of free therapy too.

Bell X1 play Leisureland next Thursday, December 21.

Tickets €36 from www.roisindubh.net

 

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