The Bellrays - Interview
The Bellrays - Interview

Contact Music gets under the skin of the fastest growing soul band around, in an interview with The Bellrays’ guitarist Tony Fate.

First things first – name that pivotal moment that set the band on the road to stardom; an album that really blew this guitarist away; a musician that had him playing air-soloing in his bedroom – what stirred guitarist Tony Fate to make music the most?
“ Well it wasn’t one album or anything like that – it was more a case of one day. I just decided to play guitar, and to write songs, and it all came from there.”

The Bellrays - Interview

Okay, so it’s not the most inspirational of explanations, but considering their madhouse rock style, you can almost imagine a guitar simply dropping from the heavens and into his arms. Obviously he wouldn’t have needed to practise – the talent was just there, waiting since the onset of adolescence like an ethereal power in some cheap fighting fantasy book – ‘Fate’, almost. Unfortunately, on the other hand the members of the Bellrays were not drawn to each other in such a spiritual manner: “We were actually all in rival bands before we got together,” he muses. Battling his former rivals for the best gigging spots, “We did them all – weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs. You get really good at playing a set of songs.”

There’s an image of these amateur musicians playing around the usual haunts – not for the money or the 80 million record deals, but just for the love of the game. Perhaps even after being inspired by the heavens to rock sent on a quest from god him/herself (stop me if this idea goes too far…).

It seems that the members of the Bellrays are so prolific that not even crossbreeding their favourite styles of music into one hard rocking package can satisfy them. They’re all just so active that it’s getting impossible to keep track of what each of them has done. “I’ve done lots of things… played in a jazz band as well. Obviously the jazz crowd responds a little differently though.” He laughs. “We all kind of do our own things ... I played on Sunny Vincent’s latest album, and co-wrote and played on a track for the Streetwalking Cheetahs.” When quizzed about how they felt on each other’s side-projects though, it appears that whilst they’re happy to talk about their own adventures, they’re so busy doing it that they don’t even have time to listen to each other’s boastings. Lisa (vocalist) Kekaula’s track with Basement Jaxx may have had the airplay on BBC Radio 1, but Fate “hadn’t even heard about this single until you just told me!”

Unfortunately, their combining of several musical styles into one big, blue and black, soul & rock laden blender might well induce fury from certain traditionalists. Anti-White Stripes-ists, for example, have been known to slate the Detroit two-piece because of their aversion to simple, straight 12-bar blues. But is Tony Fate shaken by the possibility of this purist wrath? It appears not: “I think mixing genres extends the music, y’ know? – Its like if the Beatles hadn’t crossed the Everley Brothers with all of their ideas, then they wouldn’t have been who they were. Name one type of music that’s pure these days? If people try to purify the music, then what’s next?”

So since those first fledgling days when fate laid music at their feet, what has made the Bellrays tick? With all these variations in tastes flying around, surely there are fierce arguments on choice – which of you gets to choose what’s played on the tour bus? “Well, no one person just likes Iron Maiden, and just listens to that kind of music. I listen to Miles Davis, the Ramones… and we all respect one another’s tastes.” Push a little deeper and he reveals his favourite: “If I had to pick one though – it’d have to be 60’s soul music. Things like Staxx records…” And with this, the gentle message of a simple white robe-clad pilgrim magically transforms into a black-tie,-sunglasses-and-fedora wearing, blues brothers style “Jesus H Tap-Dancing Christ, I have seen the light” messenger, spreading the message in a thoroughly more exciting way.

But Soul music has always traditionally been an American thing – the origins were in Detroit, not Derby – so surely the response to all this upbeat and heavily, well, soulful music is marred slightly by all the grey weather and the influence of Morrissey that collects in the British eardrum? “We’re getting about the same reception over here as back home…but we’re actually selling a lot more records in England – the business in America is just so big that its hard to actually get heard. Its all about the distribution there – getting it out to people.” Its good to know that at least some American imports are doing well in our isles then (no mention of David Blaine needed here).

Their latest offering, The Red, White and Black is possibly the most energetic album this side of Jane Fonda’s workout CD, but was it as fun to make as it sounds on record? “Recording is usually such a drag, but there was a lot of energy when we did this one – we’re certainly not a shoegazer band! So yeah I really stand behind this album.” Its not surprising, and in fact it would be quite worrying if this album wasn’t just as entertaining as anything else they’ve ever done on their own, funerals and bar mitzvahs included.

Mark Danson 22/10/2003

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