Glasgow based collective Trembling Bells will be making their first appearance at SXSW next week and they’ll also be playing in NYC at Webster Hall on Tuesday night before heading down to Austin. Alex Neilson recently spoke to Dear Scotland about his Scottish influences and one memorable experience he had with Bonnie Prince Billy.

Dear Scotland: Where are you now and what did you do last night?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: Tonight I am in the dressing room at the Sage, Gateshead, preparing to play a gig with the fabulous Baby Dee. Tonight is the first night of our English/ Irish tour so we are quelling any nervousness with slurps of red wine and blue jokes.
Last night I was in Coventry watching Match of the Day 2 while recovering from a hangover after playing a real strange show in London with Trembling Bells the previous night.

DS: Paul McCartney said he got into music to avoid a job – and get lots of girls. What made you get into music?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: I started to play drums cos it coincided with a physics lesson at my high school and I took to it as naturally as Christ took to the cross. I started out playing improvised music and traditional British folk = no girls. I have managed to avoid getting a proper job for sometime, which is a blessing as the only qualification I have is a 50 meter swimming certificate from when I was 8.

DS: What is your favourite song to play right now?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: My favourite song of the moment is ‘I Get Along without you Very Well’, by Hoagy Carmichael as sung by Frank Sinatra on ‘In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning’. It is a devastatingly sentimental song about deluding oneself that you have forgotten your true love only
I have also been bingeing on 80s Dylan and really dig the song ‘Heart of Mine’ from the Shot of Love album.

Bob Dylan – Heart of Mine


DS: Your heading out to Austin soon for SXSW, have you played there before and are there other places you’d like to visit?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: I have played in Austin before but never at the SXSW festival. I am a little trepidatious about it as I have heard conflicting reports about the SXSW experience, though it is such a vast event that I am sure there is alot of good stuff to see/ hear. We were trying to organise a tour to California to coincide with the trip but it fell through – it would have been a thrill to visit the Henry Miller library in Big Sur and mince along Haight Ashbury like so many of our heroes from the west coast 60s psychedelic scene.

DS: Do you feel more Scottish when you are abroad, or do you adapt well to new places? Anything you miss about Scotland?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: I do feel quite Scottish when I am abroad. I usually play up the Scottish thing rather then let on that I was actually born in England, so people don’t start hating me quite so quickly. I also have a love of Scotch whiskey so try to find that while I am oot n aboot. Though I am a seasoned traveller and can usually adapt quite quickly, using my scant grasp of foreign languages that makes Del Boy look like Vladamir Nabakov.

DS: What will be your first words on stage at your SXSW showcase to an audience of fans and industry types?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: My first words will probably be…. (in a high, nervous cracking voice) ‘Hi, we are Trembling Bells…. prepare to get donged!’

Trembling Bells – Goathland


DS: How do people react when they discover that Trembling Bells are Scottish?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: People usually smile a little nervously then surreptitiously check their pockets to see if their wallets and car keys are still there.

DS: Are there any Scottish musicians, past or present, that have influenced you?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: My favourite Scottish band are Deacon Blue. They get a bad rap but I think Fellow Hoodlums is a glorious album and I have always wanted to cover ‘Your Swaying Arms’. I also really like a lot of Scottish traditional singers such as Jeannie Robertson, Davie Stewart and Alasdair Roberts. There is a Glasgow band playing out at the moment called Hidden Masters that I like alot.

Deacon Blue – Your Swaying Arms


DS: Before Austin, you’ve a gig in New York lined up but what are your other plans for 2010?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: We have our second album, Abandoned Love, due out in April on Honest Jons records and will be embarking on a UK tour in support of that. It would be great to get to Europe to play some shows too. I have a backlog of strong songs I would like to record in the summer too.

DS: What should the Scottish national anthem be?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: I like the current one, Flower of Scotland. But maybe the George Jones song, ‘If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)’ would be a good alternative?

George Jones – If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)


DS: What is the best after-show experience you’ve had?

Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: One time I was in Big Sur with the Bonnie Prince Billy band and we took mushrooms at midnight then visited a natural hot spring built into the dramatic cliffs over looking the Pacific ocean. The stars were as vivid as frozen fireworks and our nakedness was a precious thing.

DS: And finally, many many years from now, when you finish your farewell world tour, is there one place to where you would like to retire?
Alex Neilson, Trembling Bells: I would like to retire in Cornwall or the Portuguese country side. I love both regions and am sure I could find contentment there with a young female companion as I slump towards a slow and undignified death.

Trembling Bells – Adieu England

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New York date listed below. For SXSW shows click here.