Trembling Bells

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Trembling Bells performing live on 4 August 2010

Trembling Bells is a Scottish folk rock group formed in 2008 by drummer Alex Neilson, a musician with a history of free and improvised playing with several artists. Based in Glasgow, the group released three albums through Honest Jon's Records. A fourth, The Sovereign Self, was released on 29 June 2015, followed by an EP in 2016, both on Tin Angel Records.[1] Their latest album, Dungeness, was released in March 2018.


Neilson had previously collaborated with early music vocalist and musician Lavinia Blackwall[2] in the free improvisation folk music project Directing Hand.[3] 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.[4] The group signed to Honest Jon's Records in 2009 and released debut Carbeth in April 2009. The album was well received by critics.[3][5] Carbeth holds a 76 (mostly favourable) rating from 7 reviews at Metacritic.[6]

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.[7] 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"[8] 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.[9]

Third album, The Constant Pageant was released on 21 March 2011.[10] Reviews were again generally favourable. Critics observed a move towards mainstream pop[11] 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."[12] 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.[13]

Trembling Bells performed a BBC Radio 6 Music session on the Marc Riley show on Monday 6 June 2011.[14]

A fourth Trembling Bells album, The Sovereign Self, was released by Tin Angel Records on 29 June 2015.[1] A fifth album, Wide Majestic Aire, came out on 1 April 2016, also on Tin Angel Records.[15]

Album number six, Dungeness, was released on 30 March 2018, again on Tin Angel Records.[16]

In September 2018, frontwoman Lavinia Blackwall announced she was leaving the band after 10 years.[17]

Influences and style[edit]

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 [18] 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".[19] John Mulvey has said "the rickety spirit of various Pastels/Bill Wells affiliates can be heard occasionally"[3]

Live performances and tours[edit]

Trembling Bells played at Green Man Festival 2009.[20] In 2010 they performed at All Tomorrow's Parties Bowlie Weekender 2 curated by Belle and Sebastian.[21] The group toured the UK and Ireland in Spring 2011 to promote The Constant Pageant[22] In August 2011, the group conducted a 5-date tour of the UK in collaboration with Mike Heron of the Incredible String Band.[23] 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."[24] Mike Heron & Trembling Bells with Shelah McDonald, Oran Mor - Glasgow 2 August 2013. They conducted a small return tour around the UK together in December 2014, which Freq described as being as if "you were transported back to that hazy time in the ’60s when music was magical and could open different doors to whole new experiences." [25]

Band members[edit]

The current (2018) lineup of Trembling Bells is:




  • 2010 "New Year's Eve's the Loneliest Night of the Year" (with Bonnie Prince Billy and Mike Heron)
  • 2014 "New Trip on the Old Wine" / "Lay It Down" (with Bonnie Prince Billy)
  • 2015 "Hallelujah" / "Wah Wah" (special Record Store Day release)
  • 2016 "Who Call the Law?" / "Made for the May" (special Record Store Day release)


  1. ^ a b "Listen: new Trembling Bells album The Sovereign Self - The Wire".
  2. ^ Blackwall, Lavinia. "Lavinia Blackwall, singer". Mandy Singers. The Mandy Network Ltd. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Mulvey, James. "Trembling Bells, Carbeth". Uncut:Wild Mercury Sound 2009-04-02. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  4. ^ Edwards, Duncan. "Trembling Bells, Carbeth". Brainwashed, 03 May 2009. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  5. ^ Meyer, Bill. "Trembling Bells: Carbeth". Dusted Reviews,May. 13, 2009. Dusted Magazine. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  6. ^ "Critic Reviews for Carbeth". Metacritic. 2009-04-14. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
  7. ^ Empire, Kitty (18 April 2010). "Trembling Bells: Abandoned Love (Honest Jon's)". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  8. ^ Mulvey, John. "Trembling Bells: "Abandoned Love"". Uncut: Wild Mercury Sound, 2010-04-01. IPC Media. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Trembling Bells The Rich Pageant". Culture Critic-Recorded Music. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  11. ^ Denselow, Robert (17 March 2011). "Trembling Bells: The Constant Pageant – review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  12. ^ Elliot, Richard. "Trembling Bells: The Constant Pageant". Popmatters-Music-Reviews-15 April 2011. Popmatters Media Inc. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  13. ^ "Reviews for The Constant Pageant by Trembling Bells". Metacritic. 2011-03-21. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
  14. ^ "Trembling Bells". Radio 6 Music Mark Riley. BBC. Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  15. ^ "Wide Majestic Aire". Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  16. ^ "Dungeness". Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  17. ^
  18. ^ See, for example, John Mulvey in Mojo, October 2010 regarding the "alignment" of the Bells with Fairport Convention
  19. ^ Maconie, Stuart (2011-11-05). "Radio Times": 131.
  20. ^ Stevens, Sarah. "Trembling Bells The Green Man Festival 2009 photos". E Festivals Green Man 2009. eFestivals. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  21. ^ "ATP bowlie weekender 2". All Tomorrows Parties. ATPFestivals. Retrieved 12 November 2011.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Murray, Robin. "Trembling Bells / Mike Heron team up for short run of shows". Clash music 06/07/2011. Clash Music. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  24. ^ Denselow, Robin (31 August 2011). "Mike Heron and Trembling Bells – review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 November 2011.
  25. ^ Parsons, Gary (12 December 2014). "Mike Heron and Trembling Bells (live at Bethnal Green Working Men's Club)". Freq. London. Retrieved 12 December 2014.

External links[edit]