How would you feel if video cameras followed you around for a year recording your life story? What would they show? Would you be happy with the end result, or wish you had never granted permission for such and intrusive experiment? Those I am sure were questions Steve Bell asked himself when he was approached by a company wanting to make a documentary of his life.
Having known Steve fore more than a decade, and knowing of him for many years before that, I suspect his first thought was “thanks, but no thanks.” Steve doesn’t go out looking for fame, like many musicians, he just wants to make his music and what happens after that is beyond his control. But I am glad though that, for whatever reason, he said yes. Burning Ember is a great companion piece to Steve Bell’s latest album, Pilgrimage, as both chronicle his 25-year career as a solo recording artist. (Actually there are some parts of the film that go back a lot more than 25 years.)
Burning Ember was put together by Refuge 31 Films; it intersperses interview and concert footage with a behind-the-scenes look at a musician who shows no signs of slowing down after 25 years on the road (and 10 years of playing in bars before that).
I must confess I have never picked up one of Steve’s DVDs before. He has released a couple of concert films to allow people to take the live experience home with them, but the one I most would like to re-live was the one that I don’t think was filmed, let alone recorded.
Many years ago Steve embarked on what was called “The Living Room Tour” with fellow Canadian Carolyn Arends and American singer-songwriter Bob Bennett. Just three friends on stage, sharing songs with each other and with the audience, playing each other’s tunes and having spontaneous interaction. Every night a different show, with neither audience nor musicians knowing what was coming next. That was a memorable evening, one that should have been preserved for posterity.
And who knows, maybe there are tapes and videos of that tour at Signpost Music, Steve Bell’s record label, just waiting for the right time to be released. As Steve’s long-time manager, Dave Ziglinski, shows us around Signpost headquarters in the documentary I strained to see if I could see any Living Room Tour tapes lying on his desk, but it didn’t look like it.
It was interesting to note though that Dave is well aware of who buys Steve Bell albums. In this era of internet downloads Steve caters to those who still like to own the physical product. We are told in the documentary that Steve’s 2012 Christmas record, Keening For The Dawn, has sold 10,000 copies on CD – and about 200 by download.
Burning Ember (named for one of Steve’s better-known songs) was a risk for Steve Bell. He granted the film crew access but was not given any creative control. He must be happy with the end product though, because I picked up my copy at a Steve Bell concert, and the DVD includes a bonus audio CD of songs used in the film.
If you are new to Steve’s career this documentary might be a good place to start.