Juno winner dedicates concert to late father
Bell returns to WSO for first non-holiday symphony program in 10 years
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/10/2019 (1193 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Steve Bell’s joyful concerts are known for lifting listeners on the wings of song with messages of love, faith, hope and kindness. However, when the Juno Award-winning artist takes the stage this Friday night for his 14th concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, it’s also personal.
The Winnipeg singer-songwriter-guitarist is dedicating the one-night-only show Steve Bell: The Beauty of the Infinite to the memory of his cherished late father, Alfred Bell, who died on July 31 at age 83.
Ever since the Calgary-born Bell, 58, first launched his acclaimed ongoing series of symphony shows with the WSO, his father — a Baptist minister, longtime prison chaplain and trumpeter who led his own gospel band, the Alf Bell Family Singers — could be spied in the audience with his wife of 61 years, Marie, as they proudly cheered their son on.
“My dad was just a good man in general: a good father, good husband, good neighbour and a good citizen,” the down-to-earth artist says over the telephone just prior to leaving for California — he tours the globe relentlessly — when asked about the yawning absence in the house this weekend. His mother, herself a gifted classical pianist-guitarist-songwriter now living in a seniors’ residence, will also be there “only in spirit,” owing to health issues.
“But he was also an extraordinarily wise fellow,” Bell continues. “He just had a deep wisdom and all my friends used to call him ‘Yoda.’ He could see into people’s lives in ways that were extraordinary.”
Bell, who has three Junos under his belt and another three nominations, has released a total of 20 solo CDs. He’ll be back in the recording studio this January with a new album on tap for next year.
He’s performed more than 2,000 concerts in an astonishing 15 countries, from Bulgaria to the Caribbean. His 30 (and counting) symphony concerts, performed all over North America, regularly sell out.
He credits his father with playing a pivotal role in his own career as a professional musician — one who earned his guitar chops not at any rarefied music conservatory, but at the school of hard knocks. Alfred would routinely take his son to the Drumheller Penitentiary, where he worked as a prison chaplain when Bell was a child.
“That’s where we went to church every week, in federal prisons,” the musician says.
“My co-parishioners were all convicts. The inmates used the chapel on Saturday afternoons to have jam sessions, which is how I learned to play guitar.
“I often say that one reason why I now tour the world is because several of Canada’s most unwanted men invested in me when I was eight years old.”
His dad, also a fine trumpeter, encouraged Bell to learn the brass instrument, as well as nurture his burgeoning love for songwriting. Their family gospel album features the first seedlings of Bell’s now-ripened artistry that also includes his natural gifts as an engaging raconteur, able to spin tales of his travels around the globe with humility and grace.
The elder Bell would even venture down to dingy bars and nightclubs where Steve once played as a member of Winnipeg folk trio Elias, Schritt and Bell during the early 1980s, before retiring from the club scene for good in 1988 after he “experienced the presence of God,” as his Christian faith grew even more firmly rooted. The musician recalls being gobsmacked to suddenly see his father, a man of the cloth, appear among the boozy late-night crowd.
“It was pretty uncommon for a Baptist minister to go and watch his boy play in a bar,” Bell — a father of four children with his wife, Nanci, and grandfather of six — quips. “But my dad just always had a way of letting me know that I was OK and that we were OK, including my two sisters, Faith and Dorothy.
“To be a young man who has the full blessing and support of your dad is a really big deal. A lot of guys don’t have that, and that ends up being a wound for their life,” he adds.
But perhaps the greatest gift of all was his example of grace. Alfred didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the walk; teaching his three children lifelong lessons of respect for all, as well as inevitably passing along his deep faith that Bell says carried him and his family through their own valley of the shadow of death this summer.
“His was a very strong faith that also made its peace with suffering and powerlessness. He learned to see the gift in all things and taught us kids to do the same,” says the musician, who is known for his advocacy work with such groups as World Vision, among others, and was recognized with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.
The 150-minute concert — his first non-holiday-themed symphony program in 10 years — also features the Steve Bell Band: Gilles Fournier, bass; Daniel Roy, percussion; and Mike Janzen, pianist/arranger, (the latter back onstage after suffering a severe concussion in April 2016); and will be led by WSO associate conductor Julian Pellicano.
The show will feature many fan favourites, as well as the world première of two of Janzen’s breathtaking orchestral arrangements — including the newly minted title track Comfort My People from Bell’s inaugural Christian album, originally released in 1989 on cassette tape (remember those?) — with the concert also celebrating Bell’s 30th anniversary as a solo artist.
Perhaps the song closest to Bell’s heart is one audiences have never heard before. He’ll open the show with a deeply personal solo sung for his father, In Memoriam.
“There’s just something about beauty and music and melody that is so healing, and especially when you have emotional ruins or sadness or grief,” the troubadour says.
“Music has a way of speaking where words come to the end of their power and is capable of saying things that the spoken word is not capable of. When you can speak the truth of your life, or hear it spoken to you from the heart and spirit through music, that’s always healing. It’s hope-bearing.”
The concert takes place at Centennial Concert Hall, Friday at 8 p.m. For further information, visit wso.ca.
Updated on Wednesday, October 23, 2019 8:41 AM CDT: Adds photos