Hot off the Press

Tony Bell of Angels Or Kings

by Alexandra Mrozowska
– Senior Columnist —

Twenty five years ago they had it all, musicians of the bands well-known in the English club circuit, who formed one of the most promising acts, performing at Manchester’s answer to Sunset Strip … Oxford Road, supporting the likes of Danger Danger and Dare. And then ending up in a book the sub-heading of which was, “… how to fail successfully in the music business.” But that’s not where the story ends … what comes around, goes around, they say! This old adage captures the moments of the volte-face turn in Angels Or Kings history. After a long hiatus, the Manchester-based band reunited in the 2010s with the new lead singer Barrie “Baz” Jackson on board and are still ready to rock! Still, or perhaps, more than ever, as their album Kings Of Nowhere is one of the best released last year. It’s thus a splendid opportunity to talk with the band’s guitarist Tony Bell about the band’s past and present.

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Hardrock Haven: Back in the ‘80s, Angels Or Kings were a well-known band in the club circuit of Oxford Road that is said to be an English equivalent of the Sunset Strip. Do you agree? What are your memories, or perhaps anecdotes, of the Oxford Road scene you were a part of?

Tony Bell: Apart from the rain, it was our Sunset Strip. If you have ever been to Manchester you will understand! (laughs) Oxford Road was the greatest place to grow up if you were a Rock fan. Rock music blasted in the bars and clubs and it was a lot of fun. The guitar shops were there … it was a great place. I found all of my favorite bands and all of my favorite girls because of the amount of time I spent on Oxford Road! (laughs)

Hardrock Haven: Do you happen to know what’s happened to the places like Banshee, Jilly’s or Rockworld, the main clubs on Oxford Road? Do they still exist today?

Tony Bell: All of those clubs have gone now. The bars cater for the high population of city centre living now. The individuality of a club or bar has disappeared now.

Hardrock Haven: Do you remember any acts of the club scene of Manchester who’s never made it big but nevertheless were worth one’s attention?

Tony Bell: Everyone we knew played in a band so if we weren’t playing ourselves, we were always out watching some other band. It’s probably down to the amount of alcohol that I can’t remember the other bands, but it was always a great night!

Hardrock Haven: Angels Or Kings were documented in your autobiographical book Life In The Bus Lane. What kind of experience was it to write the book?

Tony Bell: It was a great experience. It brought back a lot of memories. Everybody is a writer if they take the time and sit down and do it. I’m not saying I’m any good at it but I did it … and if I can do it anybody can do it.

Hardrock Haven: Many ‘80s bands point out to the Grunge wave and the audience’s change of heart as the main reasons for the majority of hard rock bands to fall into obscurity in the early ‘90s. What is your view on that?

Tony Bell: Yeah, Grunge came along and gave ’80s Melodic/Hair metal a good kick up the ass, which wasn’t such a bad thing. Music needs to keep changing to keep it vibrant. It always has done and it always will … Like I said, “Grunge gate-crashed my party, it hid my hairspray, trashed my records, supped my beer and nicked my girl … then dressed her like a bloke!” (laughs)

Hardrock Haven: Now back to what is Angels Or Kings now – what’s prompted your decision to reunite? Was it like a single impulse or a well-judged decision?

Tony Bell: Although the band split up we were still good friends. We went to gigs and bars together. We were all still writing and showing each other ideas. It just came from that really. It just fell into place.

Hardrock Haven: This year, a debut album by Angels Or Kings saw the light of day. What’s your comment on the fact of having it released more or less thirty years after you’ve become a musician?

Tony Bell: Kings of Nowhere was the result of a lot of hard work, but it was also a lot of fun. It doesn’t bother me that it took so long to release our first album. Had we done it 20 years ago the songs would have been rubbish! (laughs) Experience taught us how to write songs, which have improved over the years.

Hardrock Haven: What was your highlight moment related to the album we’ve just mentioned, Kings Of Nowhere? Are you satisfied with the results of your efforts?

Tony Bell: My highlight was finally getting a copy of our CD. I still love all the songs and I’m proud of what we did.

Hardrock Haven: While reviewing the album, I was wondering are there any songs on it that were written back in the ‘80s and now resurfaced, or perhaps were developed from your early demos…?

Tony Bell: All of the songs on Kings of Nowhere are brand new. We agreed that we weren’t going back over old ground. If the songs weren’t good enough then, they aren’t good enough now. Besides, if you can’t write anything new after all those years then you shouldn’t be doing it.

Hardrock Haven: While starting to work on the album, did you have a clear vision of what it is going to be, that perhaps lasted from years – considering the hiatus the band went on? Did it change through the years?

Tony Bell: All we knew is that we wanted to write a strong Melodic Rock album. Forget what the latest trend is, we wanted great melodies, great vocals, big choruses and big harmonies. We had to be true to ourselves. Nothing changed because we are big melodic rock fans and that’s what we wanted to do.

Hardrock Haven: What were you up to in period between the early ‘90s, when Angels Or Kings disbanded, and now? What do you think has changed within this period?

Tony Bell: We all had families, we all had children and had a fantastic time bringing them up. The world got smaller because of the Internet. It’s great because any band can record a song at home and put it on YouTube for the world to hear at the click of a button. If the world doesn’t like it you can be told your song is crap in a dozen different languages before lunchtime! (laughs)

Hardrock Haven: Kings Of Nowhere may have a contemporary production and all that, but music-wise it harkens back to classy Melodic Hard Rock from the ‘80s. What do you think about the evolution of the AOR genre and its contemporary releases?

Tony Bell: AOR kept going because it has a fiercely loyal fan-base. People don’t stop liking a certain type of music just because years have passed. I didn’t stop loving Journey just because I’m older. The music stands the test of time. The current AOR bands are good, but it’s always the classics I return to probably because of sentiments you attach to music you grew up with. The only thing that lets the new bands down are some of the lyrics;”my heart’s on fire/ burning with desire/I can see it in your eyes etc… come on lads… try harder,” I heard it all before, 30 years ago! (laughs)

Hardrock Haven: You’re an original band member alongside Rob Naylor and Steve Kenny, whereas a singer Barrie Jackson was the latest addition to the group. What has Barrie brought into Angels Or Kings and what influence did he exert over the sound of Kings Of Nowhere?

Tony Bell: Baz is a one in a million find. He’s got a voice that is pure gold dust. He is the edge we were looking for, he is the reason our album sounds different. We just let him loose and he went to town on the songs and owned them. He ripped the melodies apart and put them back together a hundred times better. He did a fantastic job.

Hardrock Haven: Are you still in touch with Noel Fraser, who fronted the band in the ‘80s? Why didn’t he participate in the band’s reunion?

Tony Bell: Yeah, we still get along great with Noel. We initially asked him to come and sing, but he was already in a couple of bands so it would have been asking a lot of him to get involved in another.

Hardrock Haven: To the topic of your live shows, one of the most important performances of Angels Or Kings in 2014 was at the annual Firefest in Nottingham – the eleventh and final edition of one of the most renowned rock festivals in Britain. What are your memories of the event?

Tony Bell: Firefest was amazing. We go every year as fans anyway, so to win the competition to open Firefest was mind blowing. We made a lot of new friends, had a great laugh and suffered the worst hangovers you can imagine! (laughs)

Hardrock Haven: Are there other tour dates Angels Or Kings fans should keep on their radar in the next months?

Tony Bell: We are playing at the Rock You to Hell Festival in Athens in November. We are looking at doing some UK dates with another melodic rock band at the minute so when it’s finalized we will announce it.

Hardrock Haven: What are the band’s current plans?

Tony Bell: We are currently writing and recording demos for the next album. The songs are sounding really strong and we are looking forward to getting it finished.

Hardrock Haven: Is there anything you’d like to finish an interview with, maybe to add something?

Tony Bell: I’d just like to thank everybody for the fantastic support we have received and all of the kind words about the album. Thank you Alex for the great review too. I owe you a drink girl! Take care.

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