Small Venue Heroes: Nathan Bell

photo by Paul Kerr

Nathan Bell’s first stab at fame ran foul of the increasing assembly line approach required by the Nashville music industry in the 1980s. Unwilling to play their game he quit and had a regular job for the next few decades, only returning to music in his fifties. His third album, ‘I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love’, released in 2016 seemed to light a fuse on this side of the Atlantic with the album receiving rave reviews and his first UK tour in January 2017 confirmed that he was a powerful live act. His debut UK performance was at Glasgow’s Celtic Connections where he silenced a rowdy crowd impatient to hear the much more raucous Crazy Horse like rawk’n’roll from James McMurtry’s band. A second 2017 tour found Bell, increasingly incensed by the political state of the USA, returning to the UK, his performances on both tours eventually leading to the accolade of being accorded this website’s Male Performer Of The Year award at the tail end of 2017.

Barring the Covid years, Bell has regularly returned to tour roots based venues here and on the continent and it was significant that he was one of the first US acts to come over as lockdowns relaxed in September of 2022, playing his first gig in two years at, guess where, Glasgow. His regular touring , along with the release of several albums culminating in the eviscerating “state of the nation” treatise which is his latest release, ‘Red, White And American Blues (It Couldn’t Happen Here)’ finds him a firm favourite in the small venues which we celebrate here. Aside from his songs which articulate the frailties of the American dream – drawing from the likes of John Prine, Lightin’ Hopkins and literary figures such as John Steinbeck – Bell is a savage critic of the current state of the world’s corrupt populist politicians. To attend one of his shows is to be variously blown away by the insight and stark beauty of his songs, to be impressed by his accomplished guitar playing and to be astonished by the depth of his knowledge of UK culture – able to wax on stage about football, soap TV and UK politicians, often to very humorous effect.

Above all, an evening spent in the company of Bell, especially when he reflects on his own background, allows one to engage with an artist who has finally, in mid age, found his true calling. He works hard at it. He’s the driver, the roadie, the tour manager and performer, all in one. It’s a job and one which he appreciates despite the obstacles and hurdles he has to overcome. It’s well captured on the short documentary ‘I Don’t Do This For Love, I Do This For Love – Nathan Bell on Tour’ which is featured below while his recent tour diary, available via Substack is required reading.

About Paul Kerr 432 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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