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Stewart

Stewart Bell

Stewart – ©Brian Hill

Stewart Bell – An old unwanted piano found it’s way into Stewart’s room when he was 13 and marked the start of his lifelong interest in playing music. After a year or so of experimentation on this abandoned and barely in-tune instrument he became the proud owner of a Yamaha keyboard. Thankfully, this instrument came equipped with a volume control and headphones.

A mixture of self-tuition and guidance from a classically trained brother-in-law saw Stewart become a fairly competent pianist, but his decision to return to a much earlier aspiration of being a drummer would see keys become his secondary instrument for the next few years (the rhythmic sounds of Adam And The Ants had inspired the forming of his first group many years before. It was named Double Barrel Shotgun after the twin plastic containers which were the only instruments that could be afforded at the time. The line-up consisted of himself and a friend both competing for position as lead drummer. It was doomed for failure and the band backfired and split after the first day together!). Stewart aquired his first “drum kit” at 15, it was a small drum machine with built in pads and foot pedals. Many hours were spent playing along to albums like Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood and Rush’s Grace Under Pressure and gradually he built up his first proper kit, starting with a pair of Zildjian sticks and eventually building up to a 12 piece incorporating a 5 piece Simmons electronic kit. Unfortunately, for those in the immediate vicinity, this did not come equipped with a volume control or headphones!

One fateful sunny day in 1988, walking in the rain somewhere up a hill in Scotland’s Pentland range, Stewart overheard a conversation between the members of a seven-piece covers group who were seeking a drummer. His offer of filling the position was gladly accepted and within a week he was learning a cover song for the first jamming session/ audition to take place the following week in band leader/ guitarist Frank Kennedy’s house, where regular rehearsals were held. The track was Firth Of Fifth, which was a challenge to say the least, and the hope of any assistance from his drum tutor regarding the time signatures involved in the instrumental section was met with a stunned silence followed by the stammered response of “I’ll get back to you on this one, give me a couple of weeks”. Stewart didn’t have the luxury of a fortnight but nevertheless pulled it off and learned the piece in time for the overcrowded living-room rendition of the classic Genesis track.

Next on the setlist was I Know What I Like, a less demanding track to master but sadly also the last of the Genesis songs to be worked on. The newly aquired singer had his own plans and suggested that a nine-piece band playing prog rock covers would possibly struggle to find an accepting audience in the local Edinburgh music scene. Instead his plan was a band called Electric Blues, which would play classic tracks from that genre. As a consolation to the prog-loving members of the group one of the tracks included in the setlist would be Pink Floyd’s Brick In The Wall. This change of direction also saw them reduced to a five piece line-up as differing opinions on what could be considered Blues, religious limitations of some of the members and the inevitable stresses (and smells) of a hot summer in a small, already over-crowded living-room led to the removal of the keys player and two of the guitarists.

Press Photo 5 hi resThis new, more manageable group of musicians gigged extensively in the local scene giving Stewart some much needed experience in live work. Unfortunately the tensions involved in playing a style of music that wasn’t liked by half of the band and the over indulgence of the after gig parties quickly took it’s toll. After a year or so the band imploded and Stewart, Frank and bass player Dave Elam found themselves once again playing old prog covers in home comforts, although now they had also added a few ideas of their own. The first inklings of a classic prog rock album were gradually coming together but they lacked direction, had a drummer/keys player who couldn’t play both simultaneously and, most importantly, had no singer/ frontman.

The phone rang, Frank asnswered. At the other end of the line was an old band mate whom he had played with in a musical project named Circus back in the 70’s. This aquaintance from Frank’s early years as a musician explained that he had been part of a fairly successful band in London who had progressed quite far for several years but had unfortunately had to call it a day and were no more. He was looking to start playing again but had struggled to find any decent musicians who shared his love of classic progressive rock music and he wondered if Frank would be interested. This long lost friend’s name was Cyrus