SL: I’ve read a lot of tales about Dusty not wanting to sing. Are these true?
MADELINE BELL: She was very insecure and also very short-sighted. She was fine once she started but if something wasn’t right, she didn’t want to go on stage. I remember when she was playing the Talk Of The Town in London after being in America for a while. She was so scared and whenever something affected her, it went straight to her throat. It was sad but apart from that, I never had the experience of her not going on stage. She was often unsure of her lyrics and she did the Palladium once and as she put her hands in front of her face and then threw her arms out, and you could see the lyrics. She had a lot of respect for the singers and the musicians. What she used to get angry about was the band not getting enough time to rehearse. People were more temperamental then – nowadays there isn’t enough work going round for people to be like that. They will get someone not as good but more cooperative.
SL: Did she realise how good her voice was?
MADELINE BELL: She did but she was never given that much credit in this country. She knew the kind of sound she wanted because she liked the black sound, Motown, and the sound men and the producers in TV and radio started calling her a bitch because she spoke up. If a woman had too much to say, she was a bitch. A guy could do it, but a woman, no. They used to say, ‘Shirley Bassey was this’ and ‘Shirley Bassey was that’, but no, Shirley Bassey was a star and she was a woman. In the 60s that was difficult because everybody was ready to put you down: you know, ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about, she’s just a woman’.
SL: Were you on a lot of records with Dusty?
MADELINE BELL: I did the BBC-TV series and I did the album, Everything’s Coming Up Dusty. I was on In The Middle Of Nowhere and Small Town Girl, and Dusty used to do backing vocals for me. She is on I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and Picture Me Gone and she liked doing the sessions. She liked getting her envelope with six guineas in. There was me, Dusty, Kiki, Lesley and Kay ,who didn’t have a recording contract, and we all worked together. Doris got a lot of work for us later on because she joined Apple.
SL: Could you spot a hit?
MADELINE BELL: That happened with “With A Little Help” with Joe Cocker. We worked on it, myself, Sunny from Sue and Sunny and Rosetta Hightower: we did the vocal arrangement and we never got credit for it. Joe had already done his vocals and he sat watching us. We double-tracked and it sounds like there are lots of us on there. We knew it was going to be a hit when we heard it. Never did we realise that it would get to number one. Nobody had heard of Joe Cocker at the time. There were some that we never thought would be hits. Long John Baldry’s Let The Heartaches Begin was so unlike what he had been singing and that was a real surprise. Then there was Everlasting Love by Love Affair. That was myself, Lesley Duncan and Kay Garner. It was all session musicians and the only member of Love Affair was Steve Ellis. We did the backing vocals (sings) and it is me doing all that soprano bit at the beginning. It was just a session. A couple of years ago I heard it on television selling MacDonald’s and we didn’t get paid for it. Another singer Clare Torey – she did Dark Side Of The Moon with Pink Floyd – had retired from singing but she was interested in the legal side and she contacted us. She got in touch with MacDonald’s and the advertising agency and they said that they had brought the rights and been told it was Love Affair. Clare got a fax from the arranger Keith Mansfield and he had a list of everyone who was on it, and she made sure that everybody got paid. We got £400 but we had only been paid six guineas for the original session.
SL: You have also worked with Georgie Fame.
MADELINE BELL: Yes, I did some sessions for him and I have recorded one of his songs. Georgie and I are like a double act and he spends as much time away from home as I do. We work with the same musicians around Europe. He is such a sweet guy and I love him. In the 60s Georgie was in the Flamingo in Wardour Street and everyone came to the Flamingo to see Georgie Fame. Now these big stars have got knighthoods and they learnt their craft from him. He hasn’t got a knighthood and he should be honored. Georgie Fame has his sons, Justin and James, in the band now. They are very good, and Georgie wouldn’t have them in the band if they weren’t. It’s like Joe Brown. I remember Sam sang something wrong once and Joe let her know. He said, ‘You never ever go on stage unprepared’ and he made her practice.
SL: The counterargument to your quest for recognition is that you got paid for records that didn’t sell at all.
MADELINE BELL: They booked us, we didn’t call them! A lot of them were hits. Everybody deserves credit. I have had years of being in the studio and not getting any credit and it sticks in my throat, helping all these people to become big stars. Myself and Sue and Sunny did an album with Donna Summer in a day, all the backing vocals, and after we had done, the producer said, ‘I’ve got a couple of other tracks that I would really like you to do.’ We did them but he said that he didn’t have the money to pay us. In the peak of doing sessions, we were doing three or four a day seven days a week. We had no time for anything else. Usually it would be 10 til 1, then 2 to 5, then 7 to 10 but there could be a midnight session. We did That’s The Way God Planned It in the middle of the night, and Billy Preston sang with us in the backing too. We were in there from midnight til six in the morning. I suppose that was the only time George could go out and Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann and Ginger Baker were also on the record. Billy’s album is wonderful.
SL: What about your time at Apple?
MADELINE BELL: Doris Troy was the only female signed to Apple. We did Power To The People with John and we did Back Off Boogaloo with George for Ringo.
SL: And you would be singing better than Ringo.
MADELINE BELL: This is what I meant about credit. Often we were better singers than the people we were doing the backing for. They got all the credit, it was like there was no one else on the record but them. That was a shame. P P Arnold said that Doris Troy had taught us all how to ask. They would doubletrack us and not tell us, and they should have paid us double. Sometimes they would get us to sing the lead vocal and then get the artist to come in and copy that. The star was double tracking what we sang. Until Doris came along, we were too shy to ask for more.
SL: And what about Phil Spector’s contribution to Power To The People?
MADELINE BELL: That’s the only time I worked with Phil Spector. We sat around for a long time in the studio while Phil Spector, John Lennon and Allen Klein had a big argument upstairs and we could watch it. John was the boss on that session. He told us to sing ‘Power to the people’. He wanted us to stomp our feet and put our hands in the air. We tracked it three or four times and that was it. Everywhere he went Yoko was with him: she was like his shadow.
SL: Did you know Elton John as a session musician before he was a star?
MADELINE BELL: He was Reggie to me, and when our keyboard player was sick in Blue Mink, he came with us to Finland. When he did his second album, he got all the guys from Blue Mink to come in and play on the tracks. Border Song is on that album. That has a 30 voice choir and then there was me, Lesley and Sue and Sunny and Tony Burrows. We were doing (sings) Holy Moses. A lot of time we would get booked for sessions and it could be Blue Mink: we would be booked separately and find that we were all together. If they had booked us as Blue Mink, the fee would have been a lot higher. Sometimes Roger Cook and I would be booked separately and they would expect us to sound like Blue Mink.
SL: Wasn’t Blue Mink really a group of session musicians?