Rock of the Irish: Bell X1 ventures stateside

Mon Feb 4, 2008 10:39pm GMT

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NEW YORK (Billboard) - When the members of Irish rock troupe Bell X1 run out of time to chat with press, fans and industry folks during their short American visits, they just invite everyone to join them for a pint at a local Irish pub. There, the band is truly in its element -- at a bar that spins Bell X1 tracks on the jukebox.

Bell X1 has been ordering pints in this fashion a lot more frequently in advance of the February 19 U.S. release of "Flock" via Yep Roc.

The album is Bell X1's first to be made available in the States, but by no means the first impression the band has left here. Two songs were featured on "The OC" in 2005, including "Eve, the Apple of My Eye," which played during a much-hullabalooed lesbian kiss scene and also appeared on the compilation "The OC Mix 4." The group also toured the States in support of former bandmate and fellow Irishman Damien Rice.

"We've reached a tipping point with America," frontman Paul Noonan says. "We live in an online era where music is devalued, so doing shows and making the live experience more special is the place for us to win over new crowds." The group is planning a three-week North American tour that loops through a sold-out St. Patrick's Day show at New York's Bowery Ballroom, plus markets where it has never played previously, including Boston; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; and Portland, Ore.

An in-demand live show has fuelled the band back home. There, Bell X1 is behind only U2 when it comes to audience draw. (Though the gap is substantial -- U2's last gig in Ireland was in 2005 at the 82,000-capacity Croke Park; Bell X1's biggest was at the 10,000-capacity Malahide Castle.)

Originally named Juniper with Rice as frontman, Bell X1 placed former drummer Noonan in front of the mic and rechristened itself in 1999. Thereafter, the group toured Ireland relentlessly and released three albums through Island/Universal: 2000's "Neither Am I," 2003's "Music in Mouth" and 2005's "Flock." (Bell X1 has since fulfilled its contract with the label and is now independent in Ireland.)

"Flock" went five-times platinum in Ireland and has sold around 70,000 copies there, but when it was released in the United Kingdom in 2006, the reaction was less enthusiastic. Lead single "Flame" topped out at No. 65 on the U.K. singles chart, while the album has shifted slightly less than 7,000 units.

"Breaking in the U.K. was like working a new landscape. There's fickleness in the U.K. They don't respect you if you're a flash in the pan but might not know who you are if you weren't on the front cover of NME," Noonan says. "Irish acts have had a harder time in the U.K. because we're Irish."

But the band remains optimistic for its American debut. "Just the scale of the country is our biggest battle. It's not a fickle place. We've been given the chance to play great shows, now we just need to play a lot of them."

Reuters/Billboard

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