Just 22 at the time, Bell admits that a lifestyle of drugs and drink sent his life “off the rails”. Things came to a head on New Year's Eve 1973 after a gig at Queen’s University Belfast, when Bell threw his guitar in the air, kicked an amplifier over and collapsed on stage. “We were only three songs into it and the roadies came and picked me up. I was out of my head completely… it was horrendous. However, they begged me to play the rest of the set, which I did. It must have been so bad,” he admits. Returning to his family’s home that night, the next day, following a phone call from the group’s management in London, saw Bell resign from Thin Lizzy and ex-Skid Row guitarist Gary Moore recruited to help finish the tour.
Looking back, Bell admits that he wished he had taken a different lifestyle route during those four years. “I would do it differently now, and have a hot chocolate instead after the gig at 10.30pm,” he laughs. “I worked all my life to become a musician, and it happened... I was in one of the biggest bands in Ireland. However, it was self-sabotage what I did, and I knew I had to get out. It was either be around the alcohol and drugs, or live. It was as simple as that.”
Moving to Dublin, Bell bought a bike and began cycling everyday. “I felt like a zombie, though, for six months and hardly played at all. I just wanted to come back to reality,” he says. “Then after six months, Noel Redding, who was Jimi Hendrix’s bass player, got in contact. I had to ask myself whether I wanted to get back into that. Noel was very nice, but he had his own demons.”
“Sometimes Noel would be cynical, so I would leave the band. Then he would apologise and I’d come back. This happened four or five times. Then the band just drew to a halt, but we remained good friends. He would often ring me up and say ‘Hello mate, fancy a tour of Europe?’ and we’d go off and do that, and then a few weeks later, another phone call, ‘Hello mate, fancy a tour of the UK?’.”
Bell subsequently joined saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith’s eight-piece blues rock ensemble Mainsqueeze, touring Europe and recording a live album in 1983. The band later toured as Bo Diddley’s backing group, recording the Hey... Bo Diddley: In Concert album in 1986. Bell continued to perform and record with the Eric Bell Band throughout the 1990s and 2000s, before moving from London to his new home in West Cork.