Madeline Bell, singer, American, London, Newark, soul, jazz, Dusty Springfield, Blue Mink Interview May 2012 | Madeline Bell Homepage | Simon Bell

Interview May 2012


Madeline Bell 2012: "I love what I do!”

The event: Presenting the Musical “Singer” in an arrangement for two solo voices, choir and Big Band. The venue: The prestigious, sold out De La Mar Theatre in Amsterdam. The stars: Madeline Bell coming together with the Dutch Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw – and Georgie Fame, who wrote the lyrics for composer Steve Gray´s wonderful story, which was aired first over Dutch radio in 1985. Should have been a hit on stage and record! And by the sound of this night – 25th May 2012, it is by no means too late for that. Leading lady Madeline Bell, solo performer, unforgotten Blue Mink star, session legend and a Dutch Jazz idol in her own right, was kind, generous and charming, taking time out for Good Times:

When I saw Madeline exchange high fives with the choir girls of the Vocaal Ensemble of the Conservatorium of Amsterdam, who assisted the orchestra with their literal warm bath of lovely voices, joy and ease was what Mrs Bell radiated. “I really enjoyed that. Have you ever heard the original, or the second recording of Singer? With the full Metropole Orchestra, that was such a pleasure to do. We had one performance of it in Tilburg in 2004/2005, and Steve (Gray) was there. And no one in the orchestra – there we had the full Metropole Orchestra as well – no one in the orchestra knew that Steve was there, until the very end, when we were all bowing and everything, and Georgie went to the microphone and said ´Ladies and gentlemen, will you please say thank you to Steve Gray´, and he made Steve come up on the stage. And the whole orchestra was in awe of him! He stayed in the background. When we did the original, he didn´t conduct that either. That was Rogier van Otterloo (who suddenly died in 1988). You mention his name to musicians, especially the older musicians, they all go the same way you do and say”Wow”! Rogier was the greatest conductor for Holland.-

In our conversation, it soon becomes clear that of all the musicians that Madeline loves and has respect for, Steve Gray occupies a special place in her heart. Maybe Steve Gray would not come out to conduct because he was too shy: Well, I don´t know. He did all the arrangements, and he was there for the whole original recording. So he and Rogier would gather up the whole time in the studio, and they got it together. And the scores – I remember seeing there was a stack in the control room – of scores, and he had done it all. I think Henk Meutgert (the current conductor and arranger) did a good job in condensing it from a full orchestra to the Big Band. That was a lot – ´cause I know every piece of that music. I know all of Georgie´s music, all of the solos, everything. He had a lot of work to do.

But so did Madeline and the other musicians: “I love what I do! When you are standing on the stage, and you´ve got eighteen musicians blowing at the back of your head, and blowing from their hearts, because all of those guys really enjoyed doing it, to the point that we had such a long rehearsal for Singer that we didn´t have time to rehearse the second set. So that was totally unrehearsed. The last time I performed the songs that I did with the band was in October. I don´t know when Georgie had done his – and I don´t think they had ever played one or two of his pieces.” That is another reason why finally getting a chance to record that dedicated work Singer in the studio “would be nice” as a reward for all the efforts. “We should really do some (gigs) as a memory of Steve, because it is such a beautiful piece, and musicians need to hear it! I always call Steve Gray “My Gershwin”. We mentioned “My Second Home”- I had to sing that at Steve Gray´s funeral, and I sang to his family to the sound recording of a demo of Steve playing piano, and Georgie playing organ, and that´s all there was on it – and that´s what I used for his funeral, just Georgie and Steve. It was amazing!

Let us go down memory lane when Madeline first met Georgie Fame: I always feel that me and Georgie are joined at the hip. We only see each other once, maybe twice a year. And when we see each other, it is like we saw each other yesterday. And we have known each other since the ´Flamingo´. I was in London at that time. In those days, there were quite a few music clubs in London, so you could go from one to another, you know. There were loads of clubs for live music. We´ve done a lot together, me and Georgie.

And Georgie Fame decided Madeline Bell was the right person to project the Singer to, didn´t he?”It´s not based on me. He phoned me when him and Steve got the go-ahead to do this piece. And he said ´Steve and I, we´ve got this commission from a radio station in Holland. It´s not your story, but we would like to “hang” the story on you. Do you mind if we use you as a model in our mind? Because he was writing the lyrics, you see, and he needed somebody that he knew and sort of knew about my story. Basically, when you think about it, it applies to just about every female Singer you can think of. But it is not my story. This is the thing. They used me as a model, as a mannequin to hang the story on. Then they could build – add more layers to it, as they went on. But because he wrote the lyrics and he knew me so well, it fits. I know so many singers that it applies to, even to the sinking into drugs and everything. This is not me, but I know singers that it has happened to. They started off small, got really big, and then sunk into drug land for a while, but eventually came out of it. So that is what the story is about.

The collaboration with Georgie Fame, live and on record, goes back several decades. You find his self-composed “For Your Pleasure”, (the 1968 B-side of his Jimmy-Webb-single “By The Time I Get To Phoenix”), on Madeline´s second Philips album Doin´ Things: “I sang that to him on the night of “Singer”, on stage when we finished “The Nearness Of You”. As he got up, he said “Thank you Baby” and I just said “For your pleasure”. I did the backing vocal on his version. That´s when I first heard it, because he recorded it. And if you got a copy of him singing it – that is me, Kay Garner and Leslie Duncan doing the backing vocals. I went into the studio afterwards and I said I wanted to do that song. A few years back I sang on a song about the Flamingo – “Flamingo Allnighter”. We bumped into each other at TV and radio stations, and we did ”City Life” with the BBC Big Band and various radio shows.

In a way, Singer is a celebration especially of singing in Swinging London, demonstrated by the fast-paced “City Life” and the breath-taking, moving “My Second Home” that became a last tribute to Steve Gray. When Madeline first came to London from Newark, New Jersey, she had been doing Barbershop singing, was a member of the renowned Bradford Singers and hit the road with them, presenting the celebrated Black Nativity Gospel showcase. She witnessed its stunning success, but what hit her enough about the London scene to stay in London, to make it her “Second Home”? Well, we had been on the road, touring for about fourteen months, before I decided to stay in London, and that was because I was offered a record contract in London. I didn´t really have that much choice to go back to Newark, New Jersey, so I said yes! Musically – this was in September 1963. I went to Newark, saw my family and then came back, and I have been in Europe ever since.

Touring then brought Madeline from theatre stages and concert halls to the cabaret circuit. It must have been one hell of a change of scenery to work with a comedian like Les Dawson: “There were three acts on the bill, and he was the comedian. One was a very famous dancer in England at that time, Lionel Blair, then it was me and then it was Les Dawson. And I truly cannot remember any of that time, because we are talking about 1964.”

We heard and watched them all: P.P. Arnold, Vicki Brown, Linda Lewis or Elkie Brooks – but somehow Madeline Bell has always been – and is – the happiest of them all, on top of her brilliant performances. How come she always radiates this joy? “Me – personally? It is because I love what I do. I am satisfied with what I do. The hardest part about what I do is the travelling. Once I get to the gig, the rehearsal, it is sort of like countdown to doing the show. Once I get in the theatre or get to the club or whatever; I´m ready for it! Really, I always have enjoyed singing and performing and being with musicians. I love musicians!

It must have made Madeline Bell proud to have Dusty Springfield sing backing to some of her singles after she had provided vocal assistance for Dusty´s records for a while. And it must have made her proud to read that Joe Cocker waited a full year before he recorded that famous Beatles tune, badly needing Madeline´s voice for the chorus – and I think “With A Little Help From My Friends” should have been a duet with both names on it. Do people still talk to her about that signature tune? No, they don´t, because in those days, singers didn´t get credits – this is in the Sixties. Actually, she did get a credit for it on Joe Cocker´s album of the same name, not only for “With A Little Help” but also for singing on “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Do I Still Figure In Your Life?” along with Sue & Sunny as well as Rosetta Hightower, but there was certainly only a modest session fee – and no royalties for her substantial input.

Madeline continues: There has been an American program on English television which they called “The Wonder Years”. They use “With A Little Help From My Friends”. I´ve heard it in a commercial in America for insurance – we´ve never been paid! And it´s down that it´s us performing, but we have never been paid for doing that. It´s still happening: I´m in the middle of something with a company at the moment, for the same reason: They are using the original Blue Mink recordings. And they never contacted us or anything. Of course, they haven´t paid us, and of course, they´re like trying to find reasons why they don´t have to pay us. That´s the way they do it now, because – what they´ve done is: The big companies have bought up the catalogues and the smaller companies in the Sixties. And they think, well, you signed away your rights. –

Show it to me! And then still tell me where you have the rights to use my voice to advertise a product. The client, the product I am discussing, doesn´t know this, so that will be my next step: If they don´t come back, talking about paying me, then I will go to the client, because they don´t know that the advertising company has used music that they haven´t got the legal right to use. That´s going to make it more difficult, because they owe me, and I´ve spoken with a guy from the publishers yesterday, and I´ve had an e-mail from him today when I got him – in the nicest possible way, but they´re still thinking ´We´ve got papers that were signed in the Sixties when you were with Morgan Studios. I mean we are talking about 40 years ago. Well, I´m going to keep trying.

As far as Madeline´s early Seventies group Blue Mink in concerned their singles like “Good Morning Freedom”, “Melting Pot” or “Randy” are still popular, enduring evergreens. In spite of internet discussions whether the “Melting Pot” lyrics are now still politically sound, that anthem remains a valid and deeply relevant message. In my last conversation with Madeline, which was too long ago, 1994, there was talk of reforming the band, as Roger Cook had returned after fifteen years of living in Nashville. It finally happened in 1996, with Mike Moran on keyboards, but even on her solo tours – ´if I don´t perform “Melting Pot” even in the first set, people will come around and ask for it, they would be disappointed if I didn´t perform it every single night.´ And that e-mail I have received (about getting paid) I have sent it to the surviving members of Blue Mink today. I said “Send it to the two guys who passed away, send it to their families.” They all know what´s going on, because we should be paid for this: Barry Morgan, who was the drummer, he passed away a few years ago. And Roger Coulham, who was on keyboard, he passed away as well.´

As far as Madeline´s early, re-released albums are concerned, like Bell´s A Poppin´, Doin´ Things or Comin´ Atcha, which was produced by her friend, song-writing partner and father of three of her god children, Led Zeppelin´s John Paul Jones, she warily confirms “I still get nothing! Everything, all of these companies that bought these tapes from the old record companies, they say they have a right to it, because they said that we signed it away. In those days, forty years ago, we were young, in our teens, early twenties. What do we know that we were signing? So I said prove it to me, and once you did, I´ll take it further! I just want them to offer me something. I know that if I take it too far, it´s going to start being lawyers and things, but until then, I want help from the other members of Blue Mink. I am not doing this on my own, I´m not going to fight for everybody. We´ll see what happens.

Apart from Madeline Bell´s own single and album releases, stuff with Blue Mink and her countless backup-work, she always sang on commercial jingles. Apart from lots of other stuff like he has got her work for British Gas in common with Georgie, (who exploited his jingle for “Getaway”), do you remember? “I did so many jingles, they were on radio and television for years. I have got an archive of the jingles I did. I did everything from British Gas to Mc Donald´s, everything. It was a job. You would walk into the studio, they would tell you what they wanted you to do, and in most cases, you would be out in an hour, hour and a half. You would just hope they would use it, because in those days, you´d get paid every time it was used on television. But that doesn´t happen now. We´d look forward to doing jingles, and a lot of times you would get the call the day before. `Are you available for a jingle tomorrow?´ Because the company that was actually doing the music had only just gotten the go-ahead.”

Let´s talk about something where Madeline Bell really was credited properly: her work on a lot of Rock albums. When I had mentioned her work for Humble Pie´s 1972 Smokin´ album to Madeline in 1994, singing together with the late Stevie Marriott, she had happily burst into “Thirty Days In A Hole”, remembering it note perfect. But after all, “they were just sessions. Seriously, there was nothing personal or anything. We knew them because we would bump into them, but you would just turn up and there would be a three hour or six hour session. I mean I did sessions with John Lennon, with George Harrison, and Ringo and the Stones. But you would arrive, because it was all taken very seriously. There was nothing scandalous or anything going on. They would get down to business in the studio. Time was money. We all knew each other outside the studio. Once we were in the studio, then that was where we would get down to work. I´m writing a book at the moment, so you´re asking me a lot of questions I´m putting in my memoirs.”

So I´m trying to control myself here, Hope I have not given away everything. When I am home, I have to order my diaries. Some of my diaries are from the Sixties, right up to when people stopped using diaries, ha, because now everyone is using computers. But I still got all my old file-o-faxes and all of that, so I´ve got some information in there, and recordings and photographs. But I need a publisher to say ´We´re really interested in your book and we´ll give you so much money, so that you can take six months off. That is what I need. I can´t do it when I´m running back and forth to Malaga airport. But nowadays you have to be what they call a celebrity. I hate that word. You got like 23-year old celebrities writing their autobiographies and their life story, and you think ´You haven´t had a life yet.´

Most of Madeline Bell´s recorded work over the last two decades has been done; such renowned things as a Tribute To Ray Charles with the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw that played the Singer, classical work with Tom Parker, like Young Matthew Passion featuring Bell with the late Vicki Brown, some great solo stuff that she must be proud of: “I haven´t done that many for a start. I record mostly in Holland: there´s Girl Talk, and also I have done Soul Mates, with Frits Landesbergen. Frits has been a very important part of my ‘popularity’ (?) in The Netherlands. We have recorded five/six CDs of which Frits did all the business, and musical arrangements. He has been, and still is a great friend to me. Like a big, talented nephew. Our first tour in 1993 was lead by another good musician who, unfortunately, was not a good bandleader. Since then, we’ve had a ball. Thanks, “Pommes Frits”. That’s what I call him. We did Have You Met Miss Bell about then. They are all special, because of the fact that somebody wanted to record with me, was brilliant. There is one that I did with my band in London, which is completely different from the ones that I did in Holland, and that was in 1993 as well. That´s just called Madeline. And this is with my band – I still use the same guys: (Ian “Yanto” Thomas dr, Trevor Barry b, Paul Dunne g, Mike Moran/Pete Murray on keys). There is also an album out at the moment here in Spain that I´ve done with some Spanish musicians, and we are trying to launch it as much as we can with doing the Stefantes (?) in Malaga, and we have done a couple of gigs down here. And that is more Jazz.

Another compliment that is often paid to Madeline is that her warm and strong Gospel voice, which has such an admirable range, has managed to put a lot of gold dust even to otherwise more profane recordings by the omnipresent, easy-listening James Last Orchestra. Anything she is proud of here, I wonder: “I can´t say that I am proud of any of them, to be honest, because there´s no stars in The James Last Band. That was basically just a session every time we did a James Last recording. And my husband (Barry Reeves) was in The James Last Band for fifteen years, and it was the same thing. No one got credits. If you look on a James Last album, I doubt if you will ever find s credit for any of the musicians. But that is the way to see the world, go on tour, somebody else is paying for it, ha!”

A memorable thing I can tell you is: On YouTube, there is a recording of me singing a Gospel song with The James Last Orchestra. Hansi came to me – he always called me “Klingel”- ´Klingel, maybe we do a Gospel song, and you choose the song!´ So I brought two songs, and this is the one that we chose, and it´s called “Open Our Eyes”. If you go on YouTube, James Last 1984, “Open Our Eyes”, Allgäu, that´s where we were. That´s the one thing that I am really proud of”, and quite rightly so: Recorded at the Eissporthalle in Kempten, it is a stunning performance that is as moving as it is uplifting, with Madeline the leading voice amongst Katie Kissoon, George Chandler, Stevie Lange, Russell Stone & Simon Bell.

Plans for 2012 are versatile as always – solo gigs in Spain, the UK and the Netherlands, and although “tours are minimal now, because nobody´s got any money, I´m doing some gigs with Bill Wyman´s Rhythm Kings. This just came up, because Beverly Skeete is not well, so Bill ran Georgie (Fame)-Clive and asked him if I´d be interested, ´cause he knew that he was with me, and I said `Yeah, if the dates are ok´. So I´m doing one gig with them next week (June 2012), then the following week we are doing three gigs in Spain: Barcelona, Bilbao and La Corina.


Uli Twelker, 2012 (with kind permission)

The Madeline Bell

Backing Vocal Alphabet

Golden voice for hire”

A Ashman Reynolds

Miller Anderson

Ashton, Gardner & Dyke

B Baker Gurvitz Army

Long John Baldry

Russ Ballard

C Climax Blues Band

Joe Cocker

Allan Clarke

D Donovan

Leslie Duncan

Chris DeBurgh

F Family Dogg

Georgie Fame

Chris Farlowe

G Steve Gibbons

Ian Green

Steve Gray

H Humble Pie


Albert Hammond

J Elton John


K Paul Korda

L James Last Orchestra

John Lennon

Frits Landesbergen

M Manfred Mann (Chapter III)

Giorgio Moroder

N New London Chorale

O Ann Odell

P Plastic Ono Band

R Rolling Stones

Jim Rafferty

S Dusty Springfield

Small Faces

Rod Stewart

T Three Man Army

W Wally

Roger Waters

Gary Wright