Jan Bell performs solo and with her Brooklyn based band - The Maybelles.
At barely twenty years old, Jan Bell came to America from northern England to teach theater and story telling. As far as music, she first set out playing in her newly adopted neighborhood - d.u.m.b.o. (down under the manhattan bridge overpass) by the Brooklyn Bridge. Jan landed in a burgeoning artist neighborhood, where the only bar was an iron workers tavern that had stood there for a century. A lot of the bridge workers were Johnny Cash and Hank Williams fans - so she launched The Urban Cowgirl Cabaret! Pedal Steel, violin, banjo and upright bass would squeeze onto a pick up truck stage singing original country blues, and songs by their honky tonk heroes. Three part harmony sailed up toward the Brooklyn Bridge, and roof top water towers.
Jan was born into a coal mining family in Yorkshire, England. In her song 'Yorkshire Water', she sings her Grand father's words about a life spent down the mine. Her song 'Aunt Molly Jackson' chronicles the life of the outspoken union woman from Harlan County Kentucky, who went on to make a mark on the Greenwich Village Folk revival, inspiring a very young Pete Seeger. Jan also loves to sing songs by American folk singers such as Jean Ritchie, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Although Loretta Lynn was the first one she knew.
Jan's current shows trace the path of Anglo-American folk song, Celtic tunes and stories - and their journey to the Appalachian region. When she first heard the way people talked and related in places like Kentucky and Virginia - she felt right at home.
2010 saw a new Maybelles trio including long time special guest violinist Rima Fand; Megan Palmer on fiddle and piano; Tim Luntzel on bass; Hilary Hawke on banjo; Philippa Thompson on mandolin and fiddle.
A typical set traces the Trans-Atlantic journey of song, and the common ground that links both sides of the pond.
In 2012 Jan Bell went back in the studio to make 'Dream of The Miner's Child' - rare traditional songs from both sides of The Atlantic, alongside originals from her roots as a Coal miner's Grand daughter. Special guests include Jolie Holland, Samantha Parton, Alice Gerrard, and fellow founding member of The Maybelles Melissa Carper.
Jan and Melissa met at the Ozark Folk Festival and went on to sing and play across country with stints in the Ozarks, New Orleans and NYC. They decided to name themselves after the motor home they named after Mother Maybelle Carter. In Summer 2009, The Maybelles traveled back to Jan's homeland to play Folk Festivals across the British Isles, including one in the Yorkshire Dales, not far from where Jan was born.
Wherever she goes, people always ask how come an English girl is singing so many american folk songs? Jan reckons the root of many of the songs she loves, are back in the coal mining country side where she was born and raised.
"Sometimes the main difference is in the name of a river, a town, a girl or a boy - but the melodies, and the stories are often a lot alike. When folks from Yorkshire sailed across the Atlantic- especially if all they knew was mining - they often made their way to the Appalachian mountains in search of work. For generations, they stayed there, and the music was not only kept alive - but thrived. The songs now stand as a people's history, passed down through an oral tradition. When i first went to Virginia and Kentucky, I could hear broad Yorkshire in the way people spoke. When i hear the songs I can hear the courage and the strength it took to even just survive. Industrialization and Privatization hit hard in Appalachia, just like it did where I come from. All those families - they had to be true dreamers, to get on the boat back then, and you can hear all that sheer hope and faith in their voices, and the songs."
Jan continues to live and play in DUMBO, Brooklyn. Every Summer, Jan returns to the UK with singer songwriter Will Scott, whose Southern Indiana roots,and original songs team up with Jan's Anglo-Americana set to play a string of shows across England and Wales, culminating in the Glastonbury Festival.
In 2015 Jan Bell launched The Brooklyn Americana Music Festival. 2016 sees the release of 'The Beautiful City', an album about long distance love in the age of gentrification. Recorded at Acme Hall Studios in Brooklyn NY and Produced by Alex Battles.