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Clive Bell – Esteemed and revered Bansuri player passes away in UK and draws widespread tributes…

Clive Bell – Esteemed and revered Bansuri player passes away in UK and draws widespread tributes…

Musician has left a void in Indian classical music scene in Britain…

By Suman Bhuchar

EDUCATOR and Indian Bansuri maestro Clive Bell passed away on December 15, 2023, following a short illness while he was at a nursing home.

Clive Bell on the Bansuri
(by Rahul Karurkar)

An exponent of the bansuri, Bell performed at many concerts and was a regular teacher at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Bhavan Centre) for over 40 years.

Bell, 84, was a highly regarded figure on the Indian classical music scene and was remembered by many of his former colleagues, students and musicians at his funeral which took place at Hoop Lane Crematorium on December 28, 2023. 

Five of his senior students welcomed the congregation into the chapel by playing the Bansuri, as a tribute to their teacher.

Rahul Karurkar who presided over the event, spoke told “I got introduced to him in 2015 when I was looking for a Bansuri teacher. I had lessons in India but I joined his class at the Bhavan.”

Later, they became friends and Bell was a regular visitor at his home giving music lessons to him and his son.

“He was a very affectionate but strict teacher,” Karurkar recounted.

Clive Bell by Gaurav Uniyal

Another student, Rikhil Raithatha said: “Clive taught selflessly and his essence elevated him as a Guru.”

Raithatha first encountered Bell when he was teaching Western flute, piano and Bansuri at The Swami Narayanan School, but only became his pupil later in 2017, when he decided to learn Indian flute. He also assisted Bell as his health deteriorated.

“He taught selflessly, encouraging his students to improvise and express their emotions through the magic of the Bansuri.”

He told acv that Clive Bell was born in Yokohama, Japan on January 19, 1939.

Clive Bell by Gaurav Uniyal

“He was born with the purpose of playing and sharing music.  His first instrument was the mouth organ at the age of two, and shortly after, he found his happiness in the piano.”

Bell had an itinerant childhood and alongside his two sisters, Ruth and Jenny (who predeceased him), it was spent moving through different countries, including Canada, boarding school in Auckland, University in Melbourne and then Hong Kong and China.
Eventually, he settled in London, where he worked as a producer for the BBC and it was in 1971 that he first picked up the Bansuri, at the age of 32.

Clive Bell

He had some lessons in London and then flew to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1974 and after knocking on many doors found a teacher in Pandit Raghunath Seth.

He spent four years in Mumbai, meeting various musicians, performing and eventually returned to London to become one of the first Bansuri teachers in the UK and a live concert performer.

Bell performed in different contexts, including solo concerts in the UK and USA, accompanying singers and dancers, fusion and crossover groups, recordings and creating music for television, film and for the theatre.

Clive Bell with some of his senior students
(pic: Rahul Karurkar)

It was at this time he met music producer, Jay Visvadeva who told the assembly that they had been friends for 45 years and for a western musician to master any aspect of Indian music and any instrument was not easy.

“He has left a wonderful musical legacy – through the students, knowledge and aesthetics of Bansuri and his influence in performance and techniques. He was one of the gentlest musicians I have ever come across.”

Visvadeva revealed that it was Bell who inspired him to set up the Shared Values Season of the Sama Arts Network and he performed at the inaugural concert in 2019 at the J Krishnamurti School, Brockwood Park, Hampshire along with Sanjay Jhalla (tabla), Ricky Chaudhuri (tanpura).

Clive Bell

Composer and sitarist, Jonathan Mayer recalled him as a stalwart on the Asian classical music scene and remembers performing with him at many concerts.

“He was a calming and nice person to work with,” Mayer recalled.

Linda Shanson, singer, performer and wife of musician, Baluji Shrivastav told acv that they worked together on many live performances and music albums, under the Jazz Orient and Re Orient band for the word music label, ARC Naxos. 

She explained how difficult it was for UK based Indian classical musicians to get work in the early days, so they used to also run an organisation to provide opportunities for them.

Clive Bell (middle left) playing with Baluji Shrivastav (middle second left) and Linda Shanovitch (courtesy of LS)

Ethnomusicologist, Dr. Frances Shepherd of Pandit Ram Sahai Sangit Vidyalaya – known as PRSSV – spoke highly of Bell who taught at classes run by the performing arts and heritage centre in Harrow, London.
He worked there from the 1990s onwards and his students always won top prizes at the PRSSV competitive festival, Sampoorna Sangeet Mela, she recalled.

Rahul Karurkar (holding the flute) with Clive Bell
and other students (pic: Karurkar)

“Even as his health was waning, he got me to look at the Certificate and Diploma Courses in Bansuri that he was designing as he wanted them to be on offer for 2024. His dedication to work as a teacher and musician was inspiring.”

Bell had prostate cancer and continued to teach until his last days from the confines of his nursing home.

Although ACV is not able to verify this, it is clear that Bell is the author of a bansuri blog where he shared his immense knowledge of the instrument, its workings, intricacies of the tonal quality and breathing.

His ambition for the bansuri was articulated as well.

Clive Bell in a group – pic by Linda Shanson

“Hopefully by the next generation of bansuri players, the Bansuri will able take its place alongside the older established instruments like the Sarod and Sitar with equal authority and prestige.” Clive Bell, Bansuri teacher.

The funeral ended with his composition of Raga Yaman and Karurkar said some of his students are working to digitise his compositions and make this music available to share.

Clive Bell, Bansuri player and musician-composer, January 19 1939 – December 15 202 is very grateful to all the students and musicians who shared their knowledge of Bell and allowed us to use the photographs indicated

*We will be carrying an obituary of Ustad Rashid Khan, who passed away recently, by UK music producer Jay Visvadeva, who knew one of India’s great classical vocalists.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture