Paddie Bell


Born: 8 April, 1931, in Belfast

Died: 3 August, 2005

"I WILL always think of her as the lark ascending in the clear air. She is the peal of a crystal bell, the summons of a silver hammer on an anvil of glass. And even now, at the dawn of her brand new day, the fairies will still want her back at midnight" (W Gordon Smith, 1993).

I was 16 and she was looking straight at me, I was sure of it. The occasion was a concert at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, and Paddie Bell was singing with the Corrie Folk Trio. Of course, every young chap in the audience thought that Paddie was looking only at them. That's how she was.

Patricia Margaret Simpson was born in Belfast on 8 April, 1931. Paddie recalled, with some humour, that her first nervous singing "performance" was to her mother and friends when she was six. She worked for the Arts Council in Belfast and later became secretary to the City of Belfast Orchestra, where she developed her love of classical music. On a holiday in Portrush, Paddie met Sandy Bell, an architect from Blairgowrie, whom she married in 1957.

Paddie and Sandy moved to Edinburgh in 1962 and it was after performing a few songs at a friend's party that she met up with Bill Smith, who invited her to join the folk group he had formed with Roy Williamson and Ronnie Brown. "The Corrie Folk Trio and Paddie Bell" was born. Paddie toured extensively with the group, singing in concert halls all over Britain and her fame increased when they were chosen to host the BBC's flagship TV folk series, Hoot'nanny. She had a wonderful voice with a haunting, songbird quality, and her friend, Martin Carthy, described Paddie at that time (on stage with the Corries) as "a clear, cool sparkling stream flowing amongst three huge mossy boulders". Paddie recorded many top-selling "group" and solo albums at that time.

Morven, her daughter, was born in 1966 and Paddie left the Corries in 1967 to pursue a solo career. But like many others, before and since, she found touring alone a depressing life, and at her own admission she relied too heavily on alcohol to get her through this period.

Her success in battling against this problem was followed by clinical depression, and she dropped out of the folk and social scene for many years. But in 1991 she was advised to give up the prescribed drugs and a new and more vibrant Paddie emerged. Amazingly, in 1992, she started singing again in what she later called "my bonus career" and during this time she made three albums and performed at many concerts including her own sell-out Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows which continued for many years.

Sandy, her husband, was her constant support through all the good and bad times, and Paddie was rightfully proud of Morven, who emerged as an extremely talented oboist and woodwind teacher and the mother of her adored grandson, Alexander.

All these words say nothing of the absolute delight at being in Paddie's company. She had time for everyone and had not an ounce of ego, though she was treated like royalty wherever she went. She had a mischievous sense of humour and retained an ability to silence an audience, wherever she performed, with that lovely voice. Paddie's successful fight against her early illnesses was an inspiration to others, but her death was a combination of diabetes (which she had for some years) and strokes. She was hospitalised in the Western General and then the Royal Victoria, and while at these hospitals she had nothing but praise for the sympathetic care she received. Like all who knew her, I will greatly miss one of the most loved characters of the British folk scene.

There will be a "get-together" at the Morton Hall Crematorium, Edinburgh, at noon on Monday, 15 August, for family, musicians and friends to say goodbye to Paddie.