Maggie Bell

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Maggie Bell on stage



Veteran blues singer Maggie Bell has certainly paid her dues. She grew up on the mean streets of post-war Glasgow and cut her musical teeth performing for tough gangland audiences.

Then, just as the good times started to roll and Maggie found success with the rock band Stone The Crows, tragedy struck when her fiance and soulmate, the guitarist Leslie Harvey was electrocuted on stage.

The band, who included Bournemouth-born drummer Colin Allen, struggled on but as Maggie has said: "It was never the same again."

But that was 35 long years ago and at last 63-year-old Maggie says times are good again.

Taking a break from her duties with the British Blues Quintet, in which she and Allen play alongside another Bournemouth luminary, Zoot Money, she's currently out on the road with Blues Band guitarist Dave Kelly. The pair met up a couple of years back when Maggie appeared as a guest with Kelly's bandmate Paul Jones and The Manfreds. They quickly discovered that they were able to produce a rare musical chemistry on stage and have been firm friends ever since.

They are currently enjoying their second UK tour which plays the Tivoli Theatre  in Wimborne tomorrow.

"I'd never been out as part of a duo before but this really works," Maggie told me. "Dave's probably the best dobro player I've ever worked with and he's got a fantastic voice too. What's more I get to do material with him that I wouldn't do with the British Blues Quintet so it's a chance to perform songs that I've wanted to do for years."

It's an eclectic list. "We do everything from Patsy Cline to Nina Simone to Lightning Hopkins," laughs Maggie. "All kinds of different things."

She's also enjoying the chance of playing small, intimate shows. "I've never been this close to an audience in my life," admits Maggie. "But at my age I ain't scared anymore."

Indeed these days Maggie Bell's career seems to encompass the best of all worlds. "It's wonderful," she says. "One day I'm opening up for Led Zepplin at the O2 Arena, the next I'm maybe in Norway or Sweden or somewhere.

"I'm enjoying myself so much. There's no record company or manager breathing down my neck. I can do what I like."

She's clearly comfortable on stage with an old trouper like Kelly. "We're comrades in arms. It's exactly the same with Colin and Zoot. We're a bunch of old fogies but we're all having a great time. There are no egos, we've got nothing to prove any more."

Bell has come a long way from her roots in immediate post-war Glasgow. Brought up on the notorious Maryhill estate, she realised early on that if she wanted a future she needed to get out of town.

"It was tough. There was no hot water or inside toilets and when you went to school you just got beat up regularly by the teachers and the headmaster.

"As far as they were concerned you were either going to get pregnant or work in the Walls' sausage factory and that was it, your whole life was already mapped out for you."

She chuckles now when she remembers her days singing in those gritty Glasgow dance halls. "You'd have the gangs - the Fleet and the Tong - knocking hell out of each other at one end and American sailors at the other. It was tough but it was all part of what made me the person I am today."

Despite the fact that she had been to school with most of the Fleet, Maggie soon realised that, when it all kicked-off, being in the band afforded her a much-needed neutral refuge. "It was weird but they all seemed to respect the musicians. I just shut my eyes and got on with it."

"What I do these days is a walk in the park in comparison."

  • Maggie Bell and Dave Kelly play The Tivoli Theatre in Wimborne Friday.
© Jeremy Miles 2017