Alistair ‘Azo’ Bell began playing music as a child in the 1960s and Jimi Hendrix and Jose Feliciano were among his early influences. Since then he has played guitar in jazz, blues, rock, reggae, hi-life and latin groups; worked in free-improvising ensembles; plus recording and theatrical performances. Azo is also a master of ukulele and musical saw, and a designer and builder of fretted instruments.
In the early 70s Azo was among the first students in the NSW Conservatorium of Music’s Jazz Studies Program directed by American saxophonist Howie Smith. He played guitar with fusion group Spacecraft and travelled and played music through Australia, the USA and Central America.
In 1980, he was a founding member of the notorious Keys Music Association. Azo focused on improvisation, playing with Keys, Mark Simmonds’s Freeboppers and Rated X, working with musicians such as Miroslav Bukovsky, Steve Elphick and Chris Abrahams.
In the mid 80s Azo worked with Senegalese drummer Aziz N’diaye, Graeme Lowndes’s Holy Cats and others. He developed a solo show for World Expo 88 in Brisbane featuring musical saw and junk instruments.
From 1993 to 96 he was with soul-groove band Bellydance, playing on both their albums, One Blood and Babylon Mixed Business. It was here he began to refine his unique ukulele style.
Azo formed the Old Spice Boys with Billy Milroy and Tim Reeves in 1997. The trio has become a festival favourite in Australia and abroad.
In 2002 Azo toured in the USA, performing solo at Global Ukulele Summit and 2002 Ukulele Expo in New York City. He performed with Old Spice Boys at Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak (Borneo) in 2005, and in The Famous Spiegeltent at Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2006 (Scotland). In 2007 Azo appeared solo at Phuket International Blues Festival in Thailand, with Old Spice Boys at Rurhrfestspiele in Germany, and solo at the New Zealand International Ukulele festivals (2007, 2008 and 2011) with the cream of the world’s ukulele players.
Azo is heard on the soundtracks of Winter of Our Dreams (1982), Michael Leunig Animated (2002), ABC TV’s Sea Change and East of Everything, Sydney Dance Company’s Directors Cut (2006) and on recordings by Jimmy Little, Jeff Lang, Mic Conway, Missy Higgins and many more.
You can see Azo tonight at the Gollan Hotel in Lismore.