‘I’m not here for the long haul, so I wanted to put together a little thing that wasn’t a funeral but an alternative goodbye…’ – Ground-breaking Edinburgh music promoter Davy Bell


Exterior of The Regent Cinema in Abbeyhill

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Now 73, with terminal cancer, Davy is reflecting on a career that saw him working with bands like Simple Minds, Runrig, The Proclaimers, Altered Images and The Exploited, and one that impacts on the city’s live music scene to this day.

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Cheerful and chatty, the music promoter is talking ahead of Afternoon Delight, a chance to have a “proper goodbye” with family and friends at T​he Caves, Niddrie Stree​t, on Wednesday​,​ March​ 23, from 5pm ​until 9pm​.

David Bell

Providing the music that night will be Nobby Clark, the original voice of the Bay City Rollers, Rab Howat, John Bruce, Davie Sloane and Stewart Reid.

Looking ahead to the event, Davy is philosophical, “It’s just a matter of time really, a kind of yellow card situation. My life was saved way back in June by the surgeons at the Western General when I was within an hour of going to that big gig in the sky.

“They took away half my insides but about two weeks ago I had to go back in and I thought, ‘I’m not here for the long haul, so I wanted to put together a little thing that wasn’t a funeral but an alternative goodbye, just to say thanks to all my friends and the musicians from over the years – I wanted to do it as quickly as possible to ensure I’m still around.”

Brought up in Drylaw, Davy attended Ainslie Park, Groathill, Drylaw and St Bernard’s schools.

Annandale Street bus depot where Davy Bell staged his first gig

“The baby-boomers kept coming so they had to build more and more schools. You got shifted to a new school in the area every couple of years,” he remembers.

It was at home, however, that his interest in music was sparked.

“I remember my mother and her four sisters harmonizing to the Andrews sister’s songs. I didn’t understand the words but the melodies seemed to capture me,” he says.

H​is route into music promotion came in 1978 when he found himself at a concert in a rather unlikely venue.

Moon

He explains, “I was at a wee gig ​in​ the bus ​depot​ at Annandale Street.​ ​The hall was great with a full size stage and brilliant dance floor and​ ​I immediately thought, ‘W​hat a great place to ​r​ock​’n’​r​oll​’​.”

That idea quickly grew into Super Bop at the Depot, his first gig as a promoter. It featured The Monos and Freddie King and Sidiki along with Jay Crawford and his Roadshow by him.

“A good P​A​ system and some ​pro-lighting and we were up and running.​ ​With my partner Les Wilson we set up Midas Promotions​ and in​ some Beatle​s’​ Pepper​-​style jackets, we​ ​promoted like men possessed​.”

That first night proved to be more successful than Davy could ever have imagined, attracting 2,000 people.

First Priority

“By eight o’clock we were taking buckets of cash at the door,” he recalls. “Frankie Miller was playing at the Odeon that night to an almost empty house, the crowd were all drawn to the Super Bop.

“I was ​29​ at the time, running a decorating business, but as soon as I got a taste of rock’n’roll​…​ mixing with musicians, lighting men and everyone, I loved it.”

Davy and Les then I decided to look for a building that would offer them a secure all year round venue.

“We looked at old halls and cinemas and came across The Regent, at Abbeymount. Coincidentally, when I was eight, my father had taken me to see Jailhouse Rock there. Watching Elvis on the screen I had thought he was the greatest thing ever.

He continues, “On making inquiries to the owner in London, we outlined our plans​ ​for a live venue with rehearsal rooms, recording studio etc and came away with a ​20 year deal​,​ rent free with a profit percentage to them .​ ​We got the keys and soon there was a tsunami of bands interested ​in ​hiring rooms.​”

The Regent became The Moon with bands like Simple Minds, Runrig, The Proclaimers, Altered Images and The Exploited and “around 30 others” took advantage of their facilities.

“On the first day we had to locate the mains switch room. T​he ​hug​e​ white fuses, that​ ​looked like lumps of ivory, were lying on the floor. Me and our spark​ ​looked at each other​, the ​rain water ​was ​dripping down the wall around the fuse board and I said, ‘​Only one thing for it,’​ and I​ ​plugged them in – ‘Bosh! Bosh​!​ Bosh​!’ The place lit up like a Christmas tree.

“We also had to put a lot of plumbing in and it was Alan Longmuir from the Bay City Rollers who did that for me. He plumbed up The Moon for the price of the pipes​ – another good guy.​”

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Many bands who cut their teeth at The Moon are now household names.

Davy recalls, “The Proclaimers were still wee ladies almost when they came to The Moon. I remember them standing on their wee stage, everything was neat and tidy. Looking at them, I thought, ‘They’re the last people who are going to make it.’

“T​hey rehearsed their asses off, wrote their own songs and the rest is history​, but they shared​ a room with The Exploited; one half of the room you could eat your tea off ​the floor​, the other was all pizza boxes, fag ends, empty bottles,” he laughs.

With ​The Moon established, Midas Promotions extended their touch across the city, promoting gigs at Eric Brown​’​s on Dalry Road, Harvey’s on Lothian Road​, Buster Browns on Market​ ​Street and The Parrot Suite at Wester Hailes.

“None of these places were venues before we came along, we just thought they were great little spaces, fantastic for young local bands and so it proved.”

It was at Eric Brown’s that Davy gave Billy Mackenzie and The Associates their first gigs, and he adds, “It really was a fantastic time to be alive.”

The list of bands ​Davy​ promoted and managed is vast, as well as those already mentioned there were The Thompson Twins, Another Pretty Face​, who later ​became The Water Boys,​ ​The Last Detail, The Cadets, TPi​ ​(Thick Pink Ink),​ The Scars, Blues in Trouble,​ ​Rossetta Stone, The Mafia, Razor, Tam​ ​White and the Dexters, Rootsie Tootsie Band, John Otway,​ ​Angelic Upstarts, The Two Canoes, The Flowers, Twisted Nerve, Blues Conspiracy, Cadiz, Q Street​, The Valves, The Bundu Boys, Strutz​ and ​The​ ​Metrognomes​.

He also managed First Priority, a band that very nearly made it.​

“They did something. We got to London, to Capital Radio, to television, we toured the UK and supported The Troggs at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden. We were on the cusp of signing for Polydor when the singer’s father said he thought his son should give it the boot. That broke my heart a little bit.”

Reflecting on his legacy, Davy says, “The bands we promoted were all but unknown at the time, they’d send me a demo tape or a 45 record to listen to in order to get a gig. Looking back, I’m amazed at what we achieved. Incredible really. I had a ball.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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