Trembling Bells is a folk rock group formed by drummer Alex Neilson, a musician with a strong history of free and improvised playing with several artists. Based in Glasgow, the group are signed to Honest Jon's Records and have released three albums through the label.
Neilson had previously collaborated with early music vocalist and musician Lavinia Blackwall in the free improvisation folk music project, Directing Hand. Neilson gathered a group from members of his previous musical projects, consisting of bassist Simon Shaw (formerly of Lucky Luke) and guitarist Ben Reynolds along with occasional players George Murray (trombone) and Aby Vuillamy (viola), both formerly of Scatter and The One Ensemble. The group signed to Honest Jon's Records in 2009 and released debut Carbeth in April 2009. The album was well received by critics. Carbeth holds a 76 (mostly favourable) rating from 7 reviews at Metacritic.
The band's second album, Abandoned Love, was co-produced with Belle and Sebastian member Stevie Jackson and released a year later in April 2010. Between albums Ben Reynolds was replaced by Mike Hastings on guitar. The critical response to this album was again positive. "Hidebound fol-de-rolling is just not an option for this band; they take the antic forms, loosen them and make them arresting and new once more." wrote Kitty Empire in The Guardian. Comparing with the debut album John Mulvey said that "The same elements remain – though perhaps less String Bandish whimsy – but this time, Trembling Bells are gutsier, more forthright, glowing with confidence" Abandoned Love was tipped as a possible nomination for the 2010 Mercury Music Prize, but their label did not enter the album into the contest.
Third album, The Constant Pageant was released on 21 March 2011. Reviews were again generally favourable. Critics observed a move towards mainstream pop Popmatters gave the album nine out of ten, stating "We should probably we careful about reading too much development into the material on album number three, because some of it appears to date back to the time of their debut (“Goathland”, for example, was in the band’s live repertoire from the start). Even so, it is still tempting to say that The Constant Pageant is the strongest collection Trembling Bells have yet put out." The reviewer for Uncut gave a mixed review, writing "one hopes the band will not steer too close to plain old indie rock." The album has an 81 out of 100 at Metacritic based on 5 reviews.
Influences and style
Trembling Bells' references late 1960s psychedelia and British folk revival acts such as Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band. Lavinia Blackwall's soaring vocal style has drawn comparisons to Sandy Denny  and We Five's Beverly Bivens. Stuart Maconie described their music as "wild and romantic, witty and heartbreaking", saying that "It has both the charm of folk music and the power of rock". John Mulvey has said "the rickety spirit of various Pastels/Bill Wells affiliates can be heard occasionally"
Trembling Bells played at Green Man Festival 2009. In 2010 they performed at All Tomorrow's Parties Bowlie Weekender 2 curated by Belle and Sebastian. The group toured the UK and Ireland in Spring 2011 to promote The Constant Pageant In August 2011, the group conducted a 5-date tour of the UK in collaboration with Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band. Reviewing their London show at the Vortex Jazz Club Robin Denselow gave it four out of five stars and said the gig was "This was an intriguing double bill, matching one of the originators of the experimental British psych-folk scene against its most interesting current exponents." Mike Heron & Trembling Bells with Shelah McDonald, Oran Mor - Glasgow 2 August 2013
The current line up of Trembling Bells is:
- Lavinia Blackwall (keyboard, guitar, vocal)
- Alex Neilson (drums, vocal)
- Michael Hastings (guitar, vocal)
- Simon Shaw (bass guitar, vocal)
- 2009 Carbeth
- 2010 Abandoned Love
- 2011 The Constant Pageant
- 2012 The Marble Downs with Bonnie Prince Billy
- 2010 New Year's Eve's the Loneliest Night of the Year with Bonnie Prince Billy and Mike Heron.
- Blackwall, Lavinia. "Lavinia Blackwall, singer". Singerspro. Blue Compass ltd. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
- Mulvey, James. "Trembling Bells, Carbeth". Uncut:Wild Mercury Sound 2009-04-02. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Edwards, Duncan. "Trembling Bells, Carbeth". Brainwashed, 03 May 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Meyer, Bill. "Trembling Bells: Carbeth". Dusted Reviews,May. 13, 2009. Dusted Magazine. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- "Carbeth". Metacritic, music reviews, Trembling Bells. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
- Empire, Kitty (18 April 2010). "Trembling Bells: Abandoned Love (Honest Jon's)". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Mulvey, John. "Trembling Bells: "Abandoned Love"". Uncut: Wild Mercury Sound, 2010-04-01. IPC Media. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Empire, Kitty (8 August 2010). "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang; Trembling Bells Shepherd's Bush Empire, London". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- "Trembling Bells The Rich Pageant". Culture Critic-Recorded Music. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Denselow, Robert (17 March 2011). "Trembling Bells: The Constant Pageant – review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Elliot, Richard. "Trembling Bells: The Constant Pageant". Popmatters-Music-Reviews-15 April 2011. Popmatters Media Inc. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Uncut: 96. May 2011 http://www.metacritic.com/music/the-constant-pageant
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- "Constant Pageant reviews, ratings". Metacritic, trembling bells. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- "Trembling Bells". Radio 6 Music Mark Riley. BBC. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- See, for example, John Mulvey in Mojo, October 2010 regarding the "alignment" of the Bells with Fairport Convention
- Maconie, Stuart (5-11). Radio Times: 131.
- Stevens, Sarah. "Trembling Bells The Green Man Festival 2009 photos". E Festivals Green Man 2009. eFestivals. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
- "ATP bowlie weekender 2". All Tomorrows Parties. ATPFestivals. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
- Bowes, David (8 April 2011). "Trembling Bells' Alex Neilson: "I’d probably be a professional footballer if it wasn’t for Trout Mask Replica"". The Skinny. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
- Murray, Robin. "Trembling Bells / Mike Heron team up for short run of shows". Clash music 06/07/2011. Clash Music. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
- Denselow, Robin (31 August 2011). "Mike Heron and Trembling Bells – review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 10 November 2011.