Roving Eye: Bell X1 in London


In the latest installment of her air miles-inducing Thin Air feature Roving Eye, Tara Thomas captures Dublin’s Bell X1 at London’s Union Chapel.

I couldn’t stay away from London, and particularly Islington, for too long before being drawn back to the entertainment hotbed on another Roving Eye. This time around I was destined for Union Chapel, one of the most alluring venues in the city. Founded in 1799, the architecture has acoustics at its core and provides a glorious platform for the human voice. Tonight, after sixteen sold out dates, Bell X1 conclude their tour in what is arguably the perfect backdrop for their show.

I arrive into the warmth of the chapel as Dom, Paul, and Dave take to the stage for their sound check. Renowned engineer Phil Hayes runs through the dynamics, his quiet calm confidence mirrored by the band. Paul and Dave alternate between drums and piano neither entirely content with the sounds produced. Dave removes the piano front board in an effort to create more resonance, meanwhile Paul uses a towel to muffle the bass drum. One final tweak as Paul adjusts the angle of the piano in order to increase audience inclusiveness before they are relatively satisfied. This attention to detail unequivocally highlights the band’s commitment to their patron’s pleasure.


In the short window of time between the end of sound check and stage call we wander into Islington centre in search of food to satisfy the varied palettes and cravings. The group divides as some opt for Mexican and others something a little less spicy. I keep Paul company on a Google Map wild goose chase to find his hotel. It’s bitterly cold but I do my best to match his loping strides as we discuss the charms of Islington. Once checked in we re-join the others in Five Guys restaurant, a favourite fast food chain of Paul’s. He insists I try the salted peanuts, I do, they are mega lush.


We stroll back to the venue and arrive just as the doors open to the public. A crowd has gathered braving plummeting temperatures. Since the venue is a house of worship alcohol is not allowed, so stemming cups of hot chocolate and other beverages are on offer to ease the chill. Soon every pew space has been occupied and the chapel buzzes with expectancy. Meanwhile in the green room Dom snoozes on a sofa, Dave chats with his brother and Paul tinkles on the piano. After years of touring there is a sense of ease, routine and maturity. I doubt much could faze them.


A hush waves over the audience as the band walks onto the stage and under the stain glass rose window of musical angels. Always an admirer of their witty lyrics, since my own arse is the perfect height for kicking, I am in rapture along with the audience as they regale us with a set list of classics interspersed with new tracks. A hair on end inducing performance of ‘The End Is Nigh’ is tastefully dedicated to the victims of the terror attacks in Paris the previous week. As a finale the three members step up to the edge of the stage. Dom’s deep timbre comes to the fore as they harmonise Chaka Chan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’.


The audience is enchanted; not wanting the evening to end, the applause rebounds around the oratory. A short post performance analysis ensues backstage, issues are minor, the band are relatively content. Back out in the chapel all but the very patient few have filtered out. These fans are rewarded when Dave, Paul and Dom return to spend time chatting, signing autographs and posing for photographs with no hint of eagerness to finish work. Once the last audience member leaves only then does the band truly relax, the tour has reached its conclusion, time for a pint.

Words and photos by Tara Thomas