Five Firsts: Jan Bell of Jan Bell & the Maybelles

Jan Bell
Jan Bell

NAME: Jan Bell
BAND AFFILIATION: Jan Bell & the Maybelles
INSTRUMENT: Guitar, Singing, Harmonica

1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS …The Mamas and the Papas. I’ve always loved bands with powerful vocal harmonies and strong melodies. My fellow teenagers thought I was pretty uncool for buying an album by an American hippie band from the ’60s – but I still enjoy this album.

2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … The Smiths. Or was it the Police? I was a student in Nottingham and interned at the local BBC radio station. They gave me a pass to music venues in return for reviewing the shows I saw, and I saw both bands in the same week. The BBC were trying to build a younger audience, because at that time they had a bit of a stodgy reputation. Meanwhile, a DJ called John Peel came along and introduced millions of young listeners to independent artists. You could mail him your cassette tape with a one pound note, and he would listen to it and might play it on his late night show. John Peel is considered a hero to many British musicians and music lovers, and he also started out in off-shore pirate radio – which reshaped radio in Britain, opening the airwaves to skiffle and other folk music that had never before been played on air.

3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … Descant Recorder. They used to teach it from ages seven to eleven in British schools. So important, but nowadays many music programs have been cut. I was never very good at math – but music theory and playing the recorder was how I learned applied mathematics, let alone geography, history of all the songs – and then how to play together with others, building social skills. I loved being in the school choir, too, where I was lucky to learn lots of Celtic traditional songs.

4. THE FIRST SONG THAT I EVER PERFORMED IN PUBLIC WAS … My grand dad’s family came from Wales – family name ‘Williams’ the most popular surname in Wales – and I’ve always been drawn to music from there. “Cader Idris” was the first tune I ever played publicly at a school concert. It’s a Welsh instrumental – which is the name of a mountain in Wales. Cader Idris means “Idris’ seat,” and the mountain at the top, curiously enough, is shaped like a chair. It’s got a wide flat place with a shallow depression in it. You really wouldn’t want to sit in it if you were Idris – who was a legendary Welsh giant – because there’s a little lake in it. But, from the ground up, it looks like a good place to sit, if you were big enough. It’s another one of those places of great magic and mystery.

5. THE FIRST BAND I WAS EVER IN WAS … My first proper country band started in a neighborhood down by the Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side a burgeoning artist area in the ’90s. Guitar, fiddle, upright bass and banjo would squeeze onto the back of a ’64 Ford Pick Up truck stage. It was a corner where an iron workers bar stood for a century, and the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway rose up behind us. We asked the audience for ideas for a band name, and the one folks liked best was Jan Bell and the B Q Easys. Careful not to say Be Queasy’s! The bar has since been demolished, and a high rise condo is there instead.

British-born Jan Bell leads the Maybelles into Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs at 8pm on Friday (January 20). They’ll be sharing the stage with the Canadian duo Sheesham & Lotus for another of the Caffe’s See the Future! Sampler Concerts. Tix are $10.

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