Rrussell Bell - Interview December 2007.


Rrussell Bell Guildford 1979.
Photo courtesy of Nick Robson from his private collection.

Full Name: Richard Russell Bell
Date of Birth: **/**/1955
Place of Birth: Farnborough, Kent
Mother & Father's name: With-held at Rrussell's request
Any Brothers & Sisters: No
Schooling: All over the place including Great Yarmouth Grammar School, Barranjoey High in Avalon near Sydney NSW, Tonbridge and London University
My choice of university was entirely driven by my desire to live in London. I put Cambridge as my second choice on the UCCA form, (which didn’t impress them much) because my first choice college in London had a hall of residence on the King’s Road in Chelsea.

1. Tell us a bit about Rrussell Bell before Gary Numan?
From the age of five to eighteen I grew up in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk but I also spent a year in Australia. My grand parents on my fathers side were trapeze artists with a number of circuses including Barnum and Bailly. My maternal grandfather owned a cricket bat factory near Lords called Warsop Cricket Bats, which is still going at a different location.
My father was an acrobatic comedian. He used to do a dance routine tap dancing on his hands wearing metal studded gloves. My mother was a dancer and contortionist and was one of the Tiller/Shermann Fisher Girls. They had an act called ‘Bel Man and Gay’ with a midget called Norman Mann. Some of my earliest memories are of watching them perform from the wings.
As a kid I had a huge amount of hobbies fed by a driving ambition to master different skills. These included archery, martial arts (Aikido, Hung Gar Kung Fu and Taekwondo), horse ridiing and competition roller-skating. I was captain of the school athletics, basketball, rugby and swimming teams and competed in the All England AAA athletics finals. I also got really into sex and would practice at every opportunity, often with a girl.

2. Who/what are your influences?
The first time I heard Jimi Hendrix totally changed my life. I’d been strumming away on an acoustic for four years but I wanted to sound like HIM, so I bought a Hofner electric guitar and a Vox AC30 and drove the neighbours mad, even deaf Alice at number 45, who couldn’t work out why her windows were rattling.
Then, when I saw Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple playing the solo from Black Night on Top of the Pops in front of an adoration of really cute girls in mini skirts it was game over.

3. Do you have any hobbies/interests?
I’m still a big martial arts fan but I don’t compete around Europe any more because I’m not quite the whipcord, killing machine I was and it would really hurt. However, I went to an Iggy Pop gig in LA a couple of weeks ago and this really obnoxious guy tried to violently shove me out of the way ‘cos I was blocking his view. I’m a little ashamed to say I span round and knocked him spark out with a straight right to the chin. I got a round of applause from the people in the vicinity, who he’d obviously pissed off before I arrived.
On a more sensible note I collect antiques, guitars, production animation art, modern first editions and unusual musical instruments.
My main hobby is scuba diving around the world. Mainly in the Caribbean and Indian Oceans. I’m currently studying for my Dive Master qualification.

4.What musical training do you have?
I studied classical violin from the age of nine up to grade seven and was self –taught on guitar from the age of eleven. I can also play bass, drums, keyboards and reasonable sax, which I had to learn at short notice for the Numan tours.

5. Were you in any other bands before joining the Numan band?
Before I started doing session work in London I gigged around the country with a motley assemblage of bands including, (the names say it all) Petal, Brother Boot, Shaggy Parrot and, God help me, Stud. I was also in a punk band called Local Operator.

6.What are your recollections of auditioning for Numan?
I saw Gary playing on The Old Grey Whistle Test and was totally blown away and really wanted to play in his band. Soon after, there was an ad in Melody Maker saying a band was looking for a guitarist/keyboard player, who was into Tubeway Army and Ultravox. I guessed it had to be Gary so I applied.
The audition was held in a rehearsal studio in Shepherd’s Bush. I pitched up with an insanely complex Roland guitar synth, which I think went down well.
I’d already learned to play ‘Are Friends Electric’ on it, including the synth parts.

7. At what stage during 1979 did you join the band?
I’m not sure of the exact date but I remember that one of first things I did as a member of the band was to appear on a Dutch TV show playing ‘Are Friends Electric’. We were staying at a ‘Botel’, which was like a motel, with people pitching up in boats instead of cars. After the show, the Dutch branch of our record company took us out for a meal at a seriously nice restaurant. They had a number of cars between them but one guy had a pristine Volvo P1800ES, which was the estate version of the P1800S I was driving at the time, so I went in his car to the restaurant. During the meal he told me how much he’d spent on getting his car up to concourse condition. During said meal I was somehow nominated as the band wine expert and given a free hand to order something nice. It’s not often that one receives an offer like this so, not wanting to let the side down, I ordered some very nice wine indeed. It went down very well with everyone, including my friend with the Volvo.

8. What was it like on the first night of the Touring Principle concert in Glasgow on 20th September 1979?
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The audience reaction was unbelievable. We almost had our clothes ripped off trying to get back on the tour bus after the gig and the fans chased the bus all through the city.

9. What was it like to play for a sell out tour?
Very satisfying. You really had a feeling that people had discovered something very new and exciting.

10. What were the highlights from the tour?
Every single moment was a highlight.

11. What were the low points?
See question 10.

12. The Touring Principle went on a worldwide tour, what was your favourite and worst gig?
The LA Forum was incredible, the audience turned up in Halloween costumes and there was a ‘best outfit’ competition on stage before we went on. The guy that won was a six-foot-six grey werewolf who obviously worked in special effects in Hollywood. Didn’t really have a worst gig although, there was a power cut for 20 mins at a New Zealand venue so Ced filled in with a drum solo, with Chris and I on tambourines.

13. Were you nervous playing on Saturday Night Live in America?
Just a lot. Imagine knowing that the moment the red light on the camera in front of you comes on, 45 million people across America are watching you desperately trying not to hit a bum note on the Mini-Moog during Cars. I also had a bit of a tambourine trauma. A few times during the song I had to grab my tambourine and play it next to the mic. To facilitate a rapid transition, I had hung the tambourine on the mic itself, which was on a boom stand. Unfortunately, when I put the bloody thing back on the mic as I dived for the keyboard, the weight of it started, slowly to lower the boom towards the floor. I was playing the ‘Da da dee da, boom-boom’ riff with one hand and trying to raise the boom with the other.
It was a blessed relief when we started ‘Praying to the Aliens’ ‘cos I didn’t have to shake that evil, bastard instrument of Satan any more.

14. What involvement did you have in recording Telekon?
It was the first album that I was involved in, full time, from start to finish. The whole thing was a truly great experience.

15. What are your recollections being in the studio for recording Telekon?
Gary would come in come in with a new song and put down the drums with Ced and play the synth parts. Often, he’d show me a guitar part he’d already written and other times he’d give me an idea of the style he wanted and I’d work with him until we had a riff he was happy with. I had a pretty free rein with the solo sections and would do a few takes. Then Gary would pick out the bits he liked.

16. What differences was there between playing Teletour and The Touring Principle?
To be honest, all the tours were fantastic. It’s hard to differentiate between them. We’d spend half the time in the studio recording an album and the other half going on tour. The band dynamic was consistently good. The only things that really changed were the new songs, the stunning sets and the outfits we wore.

17. Were you shocked at Numan's retirement?
I think we were all a bit surprised when Gary told us about the farewell gigs at Wembley at the height of his career but we all have to follow our own path in life and it was what he felt was right for him at that time.

18. What are your memories of playing at Wembley?
Colossal stage set; deafening cheers; guitar lead coming out just before a solo and blank looks from my guitar roadie; Carole Caplan’s bum; elation, deflation, joy, sadness, you name it. But along with all that there was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to have been a part of the whole, amazing experience.

19. What was it like in the beginning of Dramatis?
As a band, we had all got on so very well together that it seemed a shame to pack up and go our separate ways. We had similar tastes in music so we got together and started writing songs.

20. What songs did you write on 'For Future Reference'?
All the songs on the album are credited to the band as a whole. This was because we wrote them as a band. One of us would come up with a riff or chord progression and we’d take it from there. Some of the songs were more the work of individuals within the band but it pretty much evened out in the end so I wouldn’t be comfortable claiming authorship of any particular song, although I did write the majority of the lyrics and quite a few choruses.

21. How did Gary come to be involved with 'Love Needs No Disguise'?
You must remember that we were all very close friends of Gary. He came down to Ridge Farm studios on a social visit to see what we were up to and generally shoot the breeze. I’d previously come up with some melodies and lyrics for a song that was actually a tribute to Gary and our time working and touring with him. We’d finished writing and recording the song and I was about to put down the vocals when Gary turned up.
Gary really liked the song and asked if he could sing the lead vocal on it. That was an easy decision ‘cos, let’s face it, he’s a gazillion times better than me on the singing front.
I told him the song was written as a tribute to the way I and the rest of the band felt about him, (in a manly, matey friends forever kind of way of course). But he pointed out that individuals could interpret it in whatever way suited them. He was right as usual.

22. Did you do all the other vocals on the album?
I’ll be totally honest here. I suspect that I didn’t become the lead singer of Dramatis because I had the best voice. I think it was because I had the least bad voice in the band so it was probably more by default than kudos.
Having said that, Chris sang lead on ‘Turn’ and Dennis sang lead on ‘Take Me Home’, ‘On Reflection’ and sang joint lead vocals on ‘Ex Luna Scientia’.

23. What are your recollections of Rocket Records Company?
Nice people but I’m still trying to get the masters back. I don’t think it’s their fault but the person (not from Rocket) who has them did a deal to release the album on CD without even bothering to contact me. I haven’t received a penny from the CD sales. Maybe I’m gullible but at least I have a magic fish.

24. Did you get to meet Elton John?
Elton is fantastic bloke. In fact, he gave me one of the biggest compliments of my life when we were chatting at Rocket. His record sales weren’t going brilliantly at the time and he said, “God, I wish I could write songs like you”. Sadly, he never asked me to write anything for him.

25. What was it like to tour with Dramatis?
Dennis Haynes left the band just before we went on tour so we had to play a lot of pretty complex songs as a three piece. Ced had to drum AND play keyboards on a couple of tracks. As well as singing lead vocals I was playing guitar, bass pedals, Chapman Stick, Mini-Moog and Moog Liberation

26. What was your favourite Dramatis Song?
‘The Shame’ - It wasn’t on the album and it wasn’t until I started recording the vocals that I realised, (once again) that the melody was at the very top of my vocal range. This happened quite often. We’d get so into the music while we were recording the backing tracks that I wouldn’t write the lyrics and finalise the lead vocal melody ‘til the end.
The song was about old time Hollywood stars like Fatty Arbuckle (‘The FA cup for Decadence’) and the debauchery and shame they brought upon themselves.
The line ‘Train Crash Killed the Heroine’ was about a starlet who died in a train crash but the music press thought it was about heroin, which shows how bad their spelling is and also how fucking stupid they are to even think I’d write a song about the most evil, insidious drug in the World. However, the guitar solo was pretty cool.

27.Why didn't Paul Gardiner join Dramatis?
We all loved Paul but he wasn’t really into the kind of music we were doing. He was more into the Lou Reed, Iggy sound, which I love too but it wasn’t what we were doing at the time. I produced a couple of tracks for Paul in one of the studios at Rock City. I believe one of them was released

28. What are your recollections of Paul's Death?
Shock, horror, loss.

29. Did Dramatis split up?
No, I had a call from Beryl while we were in Newcastle, (or possibly Manchester) appearing on ‘The David Essex Show’ asking if we’d consider rejoining Gary for a forthcoming tour. We did.

30. ‘Shame’ and ‘I Can See Her Now’ were released as singles but didn’t appear on an album. Was a second album planned and what happened to it?
We had more than enough material for a brilliant second album but that project was shelved because we were back working with Gary again.

31. What was it like coming back to tour with Numan in 1983?
It was just like we’d never stopped.

32. You appear on a number of Tik ‘n’ Tok tracks on Intolerance and the singles ‘Summer In The City’ and Cool Running’. How did this come about?
Tik ‘n Tok were good friends of mine and supported Gary on a lot of gigs. They asked me to co-produce and play on some tracks with them.
My favourite was ‘Vile Bodies’. I even pulled a favour and got a friend of mine to direct a video for it in which I played a leather-clad, alien bounty hunter. I even played the ‘Summer in the City’ sax part. (I had to secretly ‘phone a friend of mine to find out how to play an F sharp on the damned thing ‘cos I’d never needed it before)

33. What do you remember from those recording sessions?
Exotic outfits, exotic ideas, really lovely people and Jane Kahn (fashion designer and Tokky’s girlfriend) was gorgeous.

34. What did you do whilst not touring with Gary?
As well as doing session work with various bands, I started a jingle company called ‘One Hand Clapping’ and won a New York Advertising Award for the best use of original music for my first job on Toyota car ad. I also started writing comedy scripts for TV shows like ‘Alas Smith and Jones’ and worked with Keith Allen while he was with ‘Comic Strip’. I appeared in a few of episodes and wrote the musical scores for some of them with a guy called Vic Martin. I’m actually working on a show with Keith at the moment. I was also mugged by Lily Allen and Alfie when she was about eight-years-old. I’d crashed out on the sofa at Keith and Allison’s flat after putting the change from my pockets on the coffee table. Lily woke me up at some God-awful hour of the morning and said “Hello Russell”. I sat up, bleary-eyed and hungover, whereupon she kicked me square in the bollocks and shouted, “Alfie, get his money”, which he did and then they both ran off. You’ve gotta’ love ‘em.

35. Both you and Chris stopped touring with Gary after 1989. Why?
It was just time to move on. Obviously, I can’t speak for Chris, but I had a number of projects and opportunities I wanted to pursue, especially in TV, film and advertising. Gary and I never, ever had a falling out and I shall always, always consider him to be a good friend.

36. What did you do after leaving the backing band?
I decided to get rich by developing all the projects I had put on the back burner but hadn’t had time to consolidate. (Sorry, that really is a lot of ‘hads’ in one sentence.)

37.Your ‘UKscreen about’ says you are an actor, voice over artist, musician, writer, director and music producer, do you have a list of your accomplishments?
In no particular order:

Worked as Musical Director, Scriptwriter, Presenter and Actor on the ‘I Love Keith Allen’ show for BSB.
Wrote comedy scripts for numerous well-known shows.
Composed a whole bunch of music for ads, TV, radio shows and films.
Set up Pagan Records with a partner and worked as CEO and head of A&R. Discovered I didn’t like being a record exec although Daisy Chainsaw were interesting.
Wrote comedy scripts for Craig Charles standup tours and videos and acted in same.
Co-wrote the books ‘Craig Charles’ Almanac of Total Knowledge’ and ‘The Log; A Dwarfer’s Guide to Everything’
Wrote a series of books based on the ‘Reboot’ TV animation series.
Wrote scripts and performed characters, (Dr Destiny, Professor Brain and Naughty Nicola) on the Kiss FM breakfast show for six months with Craig Charles.
Wrote three plays for BBC radio.
Did and still do voice-overs for adverts, TV and radio.
Chief writer for ‘The Funky Bunker’ on ITV1. Wrote and performed the character Dr Destiny on same.
Directed and scripted the ‘European Team Poker Championships’ for Sky Sports in St Petersburg, Russia.
Worked with Keith Allen on a song for Fulham FC. Ended up dancing to the song, on the pitch, in front of a packed stadium at Craven Cottage wearing nothing but women’s tights (with nothing underneath) and a boob tube. It was Fulham v Man City and it was on Match of the Day. Danny Dyer was one of the five ‘dancers’ as was the actor Kieran O’Brien, who was going to be our choreographer for the dance routine. On the day of the match, we all met in a pub in Notting Hill and I asked Kieran where we were going to rehearse. He said there was no rush ‘cos we weren’t on ‘til half time so we could rehearse in our dressing room at Craven Cottage. I said, “Kieran, we’re on before the match”.. He said, “Are you sure?” I nodded and he just looked at me and said, “We are so f***ed”
We dived in a cab to Craven Cottage. As soon as we arrived, a women rushed us to a dressing room and said, “You’re on the pitch in three minutes”
This was when Kieran tossed us each a pair of black lady’s tights and a little, white, girly top, insisting vehemently that no pants could be worn beneath the tights. It really was bollocks to the wind in more ways than one.

Fortunately, from many past experiences I’d known beforehand that any time Keith Allen roped me into doing something I would either end up in jail, hospital or tucked up like a kipper. Thus, I had come prepared. I had a black and white Egyptian Arab headdress, (Fulham colours) and a pair of dark glasses. Genius, no-one would ever recognise me.
As we jogged through the tunnel into the stadium I asked Kieran what the f*** we were going to do. He instantly came up with the most astonishing piece of choreographic wisdom in the history of the terpsichorean arts. As we entered the stadium he said,
“Right, we’re all going to crouch down in a circle around the centre spot holding hands. Then, when the music starts, WE’LL STAR-BURST AWAY AND GO FREE-FORM”
We jogged onto the pitch, doing that side to side stepping run that footballers do when they’re warming up. Keith Allen and Al Fayed were already on the pitch, fully dressed, with microphones.
[Editor’s note: Fans of Fulham FC are known as The Cravenettes]
Keith introduced us over the PA system,
“Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for The Gayvanettes”

In ‘The Book of Five Rings’ by Miyamoto Musashi there is a chapter entitled ‘Attaining The Void’. I read this book many times during my years of training in the martial arts. Basically, this chapter describes a state of mind wherein you consider yourself to be dead already. Thus, you have no fear of death in battle and are able to attain the void, a mental state in which you are free from distraction, conscious thought and analysis and become able to withdraw to a higher plane of consciousness. This frees your body from mental shackles and allows it to react instinctively to its surroundings via reflex action and muscle memory.
Sadly, this didn’t f****ing happen. I was still just a twat in girl’s tights and an Arab headdress crouching round the centre spot at Craven Cottage in front of 40,000 football fans, all of whom were open-mouthed in disbelief.
I could hardly hear the music when it started because the speakers were all facing the crowd. But, just before we star-bursted away I suddenly thought, ‘No-one ever gets to do anything as totally and utterly ridiculous as this, especially not on Match of the Day. It’s f***ing brilliant!

At that moment I attained the void...I danced.

At the very same moment, my wife received the first of many ‘phone calls from people asking, “Why is Russell dancing around the pitch at Fulham in a pair of girl’s tights and an Arab headdress?” So much for the disguise.
The story doesn’t end there but I’ve rambled on enough. Back to the interview.

I was co-creator and Editor of Comedy magazine with publishing and computer guru Mark Gibbons and also editor and chief writer for Wapworld, the UK’s first WAP portal, which was created by Mark ‘Guru’ Gibbons and launched in partnership with Bob Geldof and Brian Moore.
Wrote and produced a play called ‘Giftig’, which was performed at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.

38. What is your connection with Craig Charles and how did this come about?
I first met Craig at a party in a seriously impressive house. I still don’t know whose it was. We were introduced and he said “Are you RRussell Bell from the Gary Numan Band?” It turned out that he was a big fan of Gary’s music and, as I loved Red Dwarf we got on like a house on fire.

39. What projects are you involved in now?
I’m currently writing with and producing an artist called Zak, (that’s his nickname, his real name is Gary Emanuel) He’s an amazing singer and multi-instrumentalist in his early twenties. When we’re not recording he sings live with The Drifters and The Four Tops but that’s not the kind of music we’re recording. He’s like an English Lenny Kravitz only better. There’ll be a number of websites showcasing his songs quite soon.
I’ve also been headhunted (successfully) by a TV production company, (can’t give details at present) to be their creative director, chief scriptwriter and joint head of development, which is why it’s taken me so long to finish this interview. I’ve been flying all over the f****ing place for meetings and shoots and will shortly be going to Budapest, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, France, the Cayman Islands and Cuba. Still, can’t complain.

40. What synths/guitars do you still own?
I have a large collection of guitars, all of which I use regularly. The last two guitars I purchased are a Taylor 815CE and a Parker Fly deluxe, both of which are amazing.
As far as the Numan days go, I still have the white strat I bought from Alan Holdsworth, which I used regularly in the studio with Gary and also the Gibson L5s Custom I bought from the guitarist in Earth, Wind and Fire via a guitar shop. I played it on a couple of tours and Gary once borrowed it for a Top of the Pops shoot, I don’t remember which single it was. I still have the five-string Vitar electric violin I used on tour with Gary. It was also in the ‘Love Needs No Disguise’ video. When my favourite, real violin was accidentally trashed by a roadie during an early tour with Gary, I traded in my Roland guitar synth for the Vitar.
I also have a Mini Moog and some Moog Taurus pedals that Rocket Records bought me for the Dramatis project as well as a Moog Liberation, which is a seriously cumbersome mobile synth that hangs round your neck until you collapse from exhaustion.
Currently, I have a studio in my London house running Logic and Pro-tools software although I still use an old Korg M1 as my master keyboard.

41. Do you still play in a professional capacity?
Absolutely, of course I do.
42. Do you keep in contact with Chris, Cedric and Dennis?
Sadly, I’ve lost touch with Cedric and Dennis but I recently tracked down Chris and we’ve been in fairly regular contact since.
Since these questions were submitted nureference.co.uk has reunited Chris and Rrussell.

43. Do you think Dramatis would ever reform?
Do you think anyone would be interested if we did?

44. What do you think of Numan's music today?
It rocks!

45. Have you ever gone to a Numan concert since leaving the band?
Yes, quite a few, usually at the Shepherds Bush gigs but I also went to a Gary Numan fan club event outside London, which was fun. I really like catching up with Gary when I can because it’s always like we saw each other just a few days ago.

46. Have you had any contact with Gary since 1989?
See above. I also played guitar on an album he recorded at the studio in his house, which I think was after 1989 but I’m sure the people reading this will be able to supply more details about it than I can.

47. Could you summarise your experience of working with Gary?
Fantastic

48. Now that Gary has realised the value of his back catalogue and is now doing his retro gigs (Telekon last December and Replicas next February to celebrate his 30th year) If Gary had have asked you to be involved in them would you have agreed?
Yes, absolutely.


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