Paddie Bell

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Belfast-born folk singer Paddie Bell enjoyed a wide international reputation over four decades, despite a career that was interrupted by health problems beyond her control. Born and raised in the Northern…
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Belfast-born folk singer Paddie Bell enjoyed a wide international reputation over four decades, despite a career that was interrupted by health problems beyond her control. Born and raised in the Northern Ireland city, she became a part of the local folk scene in her teens, and later met and married an architect in Edinburgh, Scotland. It was her intention to settle down and start a family, and Bell was working as a secretary in 1962 when she crossed paths with Bill Smith, Roy Williamson, and Ron Cockburn and started playing and singing with them at the Waverley Bar, one of Edinburgh's top folk venues. That group, with Ronnie Browne replacing Williamson, was subsequently christened the Corrie Folk Trio & Paddie Bell (aka the Corries). By the following year, they were doing turn-away business and made their television debut on the BBC, and followed this with a pair of television-spawned albums, showcasing them alongside such renowned figures as Archie Fisher. This all led to their own recording contract soon after. In their four-person configuration, the group recorded two albums for the Waverley label, The Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell (1964) and The Promise of the Day (1965), both of which were highlighted by Bell's beautiful alto singing. Their personal appearances benefited, as well, from her elfin presence -- listeners, concert-goers, and critics all took to Bell as the most distinctive presence in a quartet of formidable musicians. And she quickly found a following and admirers on the far side of the Atlantic, owing to Elektra Records' licensing of those two albums, and this at a time when the folk boom was going strong in America.

Bell wasn't a perfect fit with the group, however, and after a time, found their chosen repertory to be limiting. She left the group in 1965, initially because she was pregnant, but also to pursue her own music. She continued recording as a solo artist, cutting her debut album, entitled Paddie Herself, in conjunction with Martin Carthy. She subsequently linked up with Finbar and Eddie Furey to record the album I Know Where I'm Going (1968), which also marked the sibling duo's recording debut. The next few years were lost to recording, however, as Bell divided her time between performances and raising her daughter. She also developed a drinking problem, according to Rob Adams in his 2005 article in Herald Scotland, in tandem with a diagnosed condition of psychological depression. This situation was exacerbated, in turn, by the psychiatric treatment she received, which included taking a sedative that she ended up using for two decades. As a result, as she concentrated on raising her family, Bell also withdrew from performing (and most other activity) until the '90s. It was then, following the retirement of her doctor, that a new psychiatrist halted the prescriptions. She was soon free of her dependency and anxious to return to performing. Bell reportedly practiced for a year before she started singing in public again, in Edinburgh in 1992, and later organized her own festival. She was also heavily involved for the next few years with the Edinburgh Folk Club and appeared frequently at Festival Folk at the Oak. She returned to recording in 1993 with the Dawning of the Day and cut two more albums, the critically acclaimed Make Me Want to Stay (1997) and An Irish Kiss (1998) (with Sean Pugh). Bell passed away in 2005, at the age of 74.