MADELINE BELL: Yeah, all of them. Cookie and me became members by a fluke. I got a call from the keyboard player Roger Coollum, who said that he and some guys were making an instrumental album and they thought it might sound boring and wanted to add a vocal track. I did the vocal and left and two days later he phoned again and said that Roger Cook had written Melting Pot and thought that it might work better as a duet. We did the song in two takes and they wanted to put it out as a single and that is how I joined the group. That was in October 1969 and it came out the next month, and we never had any intention of being a working band. They couldn’t come with a good name and the guitarist Vic Flick said ‘How about something rare, something like blue mink?’ We disbanded four and a half years later. We only split up because we were being ripped off by our manager.
SL: Melting Pot makes a very serious point and yet it has a very playful lyric, like the reference to Mick and Lady Faithfull.
MADELINE BELL: Yes, that’s Roger Cook’s sense of humour. He is a great songwriter. He wrote You’ve Got Your Troubles and Talking In Your Sleep. I can tell his songs – I knew I Believe In You was one of his straight away. (Sings) “I believe in you”. See – I know all of them.
SL: Melting Pot was controversial too.
MADELINE BELL: Yes, it was like an underground record in South Africa. It was one of the songs that they weren’t allowed to listen to at the time. I went to Cape Town in 2000 and did a radio interview and the DJ played it. People were ringing up and thanking him for playing the record. People were saying that they had copies and they were stolen. Then I performed it with a little trio and as soon as I sang, ‘Take a pinch of white man’, the crowd went wild.
SL: What about Good Morning Freedom?
MADELINE BELL: Herbie Flowers wrote that with Roger Cook and he always had a message of some kind in his songs. He had sayings like “I’m sick and tired of waking up sick and tired.” Another person with a great sense of humour. Roger was so good at writing songs and he and Roger Greenaway and Herbie Flowers could write a song a night. Our World also had something to say – and it applies today.
SL: Were you losing session work while you were in Blue Mink?
MADELINE BELL: Not necessarily because we might be here at the Shakespeare in Liverpool, or in Sheffield and Manchester and if we had sessions, we would get in a car as soon as the show was over and drive to London and then drive back up for the next gig. We all worked hard and we were going up and down the M1. If you stayed away from the studio for too long, somebody else would step in your shoes and none of us wanted that to happen. We were a big time rock and roll group too. We had Rolls-Royce and Mercedes in the band, and the first time I bought a new car was when I was in Blue Mink. It was a Citreon, a lovely car.
SL: Over the years you have written quite a lot of songs for your albums.
MADELINE BELL: Yes, but none of them have been successful though. Unfortunately when I wrote a song it was usually the same four notes, but I did some B-sides which kept me happy. Alan Parker in Blue Mink wrote a lot of library music and he kept saying to me, ‘You should get into writing library music. You record it, you forget about it and ten years later, you are still getting cheques for it.’ He gave me a tape and said, ‘Can you write some lyrics for this?’ I did and we went to Munich to record it. We recorded 75 tracks in five days but they were only like one and a half minutes each and about 12 of them had lyrics. It was library music for when the actor would switch on the radio and hear a voice coming out. It was cheaper than having to pay PRS to the big stars. Alan was right as I still get small cheques.
SL: What about your hit single in America?
MADELINE BELL: I recorded an album and nothing happened with it and the tapes were sent over to America and this one guy took a shine to I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. He printed up 10,000 copies and he sent them round the radio stations and they started playing it. I got a call from Philips in London to say that I had a record moving up the US charts and I had to go to America to promote it. It got to No.26 and it was great to go back to my home town with a record in the charts. I was so happy to go home a success.
SL: You make jazz albums now.
MADELINE BELL: Well, jazz-orientated as I am not a jazz singer. I am a lot older and it would be silly for me to sing pop songs. Really though I am just a singer and if someone tells me what to sing, I will sing it.
SL: Do you have to do a lot of exercises to keep your voice in shape or does it come naturally?
MADELINE BELL: I don’t do any exercises and I never have. I just clear my throat and pray. I have been trying to stop smoking ever since I started 40 years ago. In view of my age, I must stop and it can be really hard on the breathing. I remember Dusty doing vocal exercises and she was doing it wrong because she couldn’t speak afterwards. She had no voice, but I’m a gospel singer, and gospel singers don’t do exercises.
SL: And when you hear old records on the radio, do you always recognise your voice in the background?
MADELINE BELL: Yes, even if I didn’t remember who the artist was!
SL: Thank you much and thanks for breakfast.
MADELINE BELL: A pleasure.