You’ll be disappointed if you miss Danny Bell, and even more disappointed if you miss him with His Disappointments.
Bell is a creative force in Prince George, where he is the resident musical ringmaster at the Royal Canadian Legion, which has become one of the northern capital’s main venues for live and local music.
Bell is also a musician’s musician, playing a number of instruments and collaborating with anyone he can get his notes on. He was a member of beloved northern B.C. band Black Spruce Bog, has a hundred credits since then, and currently leads the ironically named trio (usually) Danny Bell & His Disappointments.
The only disappointment that truly set Bell back in recent times was the two-year health crisis that locked down audiences and musicians alike. Venues had no choice but to close for awhile and curtail even more, as the world grappled with COVID-19. It was a scary time for anyone who made a living based on human interaction.
Now that the restrictions are over, Bell is back hosting shows and back on the road, but it is a different live music industry than what he left it.
“It totally transformed. It was time off. Things were cancelled. You couldn’t do normal stuff. But at the same time, we had maybe six months off but then we started in the summer doing outdoor shows. For how signficant it felt – and still feels, looking back on it – it wasn’t as much time away from music as much as it felt at the time. We kept doing it by limiting capacity and doing it outdoors and keeping people distanced. But a more normal musical setup is much more fun.”
He has a Skeena-Nechako leg of this upcoming tour, and the Cariboo leg has dates in Wells, Williams Lake, Quesnel and home in Prince George. Three quarters of the Cariboo venues are new to him.
“Like the Barkerville Brewing Company. I’ve never played there,” he said. “Fox Mountain Brewing in Williams Lake – I’ve never played there, as well. So the landscape for booking shows has changed. That’s been interesting to navigate. We even tacked on a couple of shows because we posted about the tour and people (proprietors of venues) contacted us, so we added the Wells show and also the Murray Ridge Ski Hill in Fort St. James will be our last one on this tour. It’s nice to see venues reaching out.”
The one thing that COVID restrictions definitely provided was time and space for practicing instruments and writing new material. Bell just completed what might be the most Canadian project ever recorded, in that context. To pay the bills awhile, he took a job as a resident security guard at an abandoned sawmill near Mackenzie. He would be there around the clock, largely alone, for five days in a row, then home for 10, in a cycle. Each time he went in for his shift he would bring in a number of instruments and sound recording equipment so he could not only write the new EP he called Killing Birds, he could also record it. He would set up drum kits, accordion, microphones, whatever he might need for using his solitude creatively.
The Disappointments is never the exact same set of musicians. Bell is famously collaborative, so it’s literally a game of musical chairs wherever he plays. On this junket he’s bringing lap steel player Liam McIvor (Petunia and The Vipers, Big Fancy) and Melissa Walker on upright bass (Scott Cook, Two Bears North) but of course both play many other instruments than those. Expect surprises.
Indige-country performer Saltwater Hank will be with them on the Western leg of the tour. Bell also has a mutual support jaunt set up with badass alt-rocker Kimberley MacGregor through parts of Alberta and Northern B.C. coming up later this spring.
The theme around Bell’s musical movements these days is harkening back to old-style music tours like fans saw in the 1940s and ’50s when the likes of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Big Bopper, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Johnny Horton and many others would configure into a mini-festival or at least a few on one ticket and hit the road. This has been seen in country music, blues, jazz, ’60s folk, and stand-up comedy.
What was instead happening in recent decades is a headliner would set up a tour on their own, and then try to tap some local opening acts on the shoulder in each town along the way. Bell said there is a big appetite among musicians, post-COVID, to work together on shared tours. Venues are happy to accommodate. And local collaborators are still getting their chances to join the fun.
With the new material in hand, plenty of past music, and endless jam capability, Danny Bell & His Disappointments will soon roll into these locations:
March 9 – Williams Lake @ Fox Mountain Brewing co. – Tickets at Open Book or at Fox Mountain Brewing – 8 p.m. showtime.
March 10 – Quesnel @ Barkerville Brewing – Tickets $20 available at Barkerville Brewing – 8 p.m. showtime .
March 11 – Prince George Legion – Tickets available at madloon.ca/tickets. – 9 p.m. showtime
March 12 – Fort St. James @ Murray Ridge Ski Hill – free show