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Return of the Flock

Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan spoke to O2′s Gav Reilly about the UCD Ball, his Trinity days and how he still cycles to gigs…

Paul Noonan is tired. It’s the afternoon of the final day of the three-week UK Tour de Flock, and the soundcheck for the final Leeds gig has overrun. He’s exhausted to the point of stuttering on words, but beneath the fagitue, though, lies some comfort. “It’s been going really well,” he explains, “we’re feeling like things are kinda happening here.” And well they might – Flock, the band’s third LP, has been almost universally well-received on the other side of the Irish Sea and they are, it seems, finally shaking off the tag of ‘guys who were in a band with Damien Rice’.

Not that it stops Noonan being nervous of his own performances, however – although he intensely enjoys the live experience (he likens Bell X1 gigs to “an in-joke that everyone is in on”), he cites Radiohead’s Thom Yorke as a role model with an enviable ability to cut loose on stage, and that he is no less wracked with doubt about compiling an album after two earlier successful attempts. I ask if Flock’s success has changed life in the band. Noonan struggles to decide, saying “I don’t think it really has, but, you know… people will always say that. I don’t feel like we’ve, kind of, reached any higher plane or whatever.” Nor is Noonan comfortable trying to sell the Bell X1 experience.

But what of the ball, and of Bell X1’s college memories? The frontman is audibly cheery about recalling his Trinity College memories, studying Computer Engineering. “The defining feature was hanging out with girls in some kind of legitimate way. The idea of going to single sex schools is so f**king archaic… I still like walking through college. It was a very liberating time.” During his college days he developed a penchant for cycling – something which even today he still enjoys, even to and from his concerts. “When we’re in Dublin I’ll always cycle around,” he tells your surprised interviewer. “I actually got my bike clamped in Temple Bar last time we played in the Olympia.”

The first UCD Ball won’t be the first time that the Bell X1 boys have played in Belfield, mind: as Juniper (yes, complete with Rice) they played the 1998 Fresher’s Ball. “I have memories of sitting in a bush, drinking Buckfast,” he says somewhat oxymororically, the aural smile returning. But it’s something they’re looking forward to – it will be their first Irish gig since their triumphant RDS appearance in January. Noonan is particularly looking forward to meeting Damien Dempsey again (Eyebrowy have him down to a tee, apparently), hearing the “refreshing” Republic of Loose, and hooking up with his childhood mate Brian McMahon, now drumming with Future Kings of Spain.

I tell him that the UCD Battle of the Band winners also have a slot, and he again perks. Does he have advice for college bands who want to change the world? “I think that idealism is valid, naive or otherwise. It’s a positive thing to believe in. Music can change people’s lives.”

With that philosophical note, Paul Noonan needs to get some food and a quick rest. It’s end-of-tour and practical jokes will abound, but you get the sense that it’ll soon be a trophy cabinet and taxman, and not a prank, that will worry Paul Noonan more.