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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 17:08 GMT 18:08 UK
Chieftains harpist dies in US
The Chieftains, with Derek Bell  (centre)
Derek Bell (centre) joined the group in 1972
Derek Bell, harpist with traditional Irish supergroup the Chieftains, has died suddenly in the US.

Bell, 67, had been recovering from minor surgery and had been cleared to return home.

He had played with the group for some 30 years, in tandem with a successful solo career.


He retained a real passion for folk music and will be sadly missed

Sir James Galway
Irish music promoter Dennis Desmond told BBC News Online that Bell's death was a "terrible tragedy".

"It's particularly sad because everyone thought the man was fine," he said. "He will be terribly missed."

In a statement, the Chieftains said: "His death has come as a great shock to all those close to him.

"His passing has left a silence that will never be filled, and anyone who has had the honour of meeting him will know that the world will just be a much less interesting place without him."

Sir James Galway, a friend of Mr Bell since they were students together at the Royal College of Music, said Mr Bell occupied "a unique position in the music world".

"Derek was an essential member of the Chieftains professionally and personally," said Sir James.

"He retained a real passion for folk music and will be sadly missed."

Solo albums

Born in Belfast on 21 October 1935, Mr Bell was a child prodigy who wrote his first concerto at the age of 12.

He joined The Chieftains in 1972, after a working as harpist with the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra.

He had nine solo albums to his credit - as well as more than 30 recordings with the Chieftains.

The Chieftains with Derek Bell  (second left)
The original Chieftains met up in the late 1950s
He had a reputation, along with other members of the Chieftains, as a historian of traditional Irish music, often searching out rarely heard and little-known music.

In 2000 he was made an MBE for his contribution to traditional Irish and classical music.

He is survived by his wife Stephanie, his mother and two sisters.

Soundtrack

The original Chieftains line-up came together in the late 50s as members of Ceoltóirí Cualann, a folk orchestra led by Seán Ó Ríada.

When Bell joined in 1972 the Chieftains had already become popular in Ireland and the UK and had a deal with the Island Records label.

They were featured on Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn album and contributed to the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's movie, Barry Lyndon, in 1975.

They initiated collaborations with many of the biggest names in pop and folk music, including the celebrated 1988 CD with singer Van Morrison, Irish Heartbeat.

In the 1990s the band found favour in the US and released CDs featuring work with Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, Ry Cooder, the Corrs, Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Maggie Taggart:
"Derek Bell was regarded as a virtuoso musical genius"
See also:

26 Apr 02 | N Ireland
02 Sep 99 | Entertainment
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