‘Broadside’ from Bellowhead - pretty much in a class of their own(August 21, 2012)
So what words does the humble reviewer need to describe this band? There cannot be many fans of broad-spectrum, brass flavoured, jazz-edeged English contemporary and traditional folk that haven’t heard of the powerhouse that is Bellowhead. From the early days as ‘Spiers and Bowden’s good idea’ or 'the band that added oomph and outrageous humour to folk', Bellowhead has established a folk class pretty much of its own.
Their fourth album ‘Broadside’ due out on 15 October, gives Bellowhead fans all they expect and more. If anything this one takes more of their ‘live’ essence so beloved by followers and pours it over a studio recording. They still turn out dance tunes and folk songs with the power of a charging rhino; sometimes that lingers for a second as a latent force but it’s always there, half a second from breaking into a full-blooded, bellowing charge.
Once the opener ‘Byker Hill’ kicks in you’re pretty much at home with traditional Bellowhead. From there on in the riot continues with their take on ‘The Old Dun Cow’ a pleasant little ditty about a burning pub made popular by music hall singer Harry Champion (he would love this), through incipient energy of ‘Roll The Woodpile Down’ and ‘10,000 Miles’ to the more laid back (in Bellowhead terms at least) ‘Betsy Baker’.
They also include a dark version of an already dark song ‘The Wife Of Usher's Well’ complete with distortion and electronics, and while heading towards the far edge of strange there’s ‘What's The Life Of A Man’ with its rumblings and meanderings. And then they go busting through any restraints to surge into their take on ‘Lillibulero’ a version that’s about as far from the military march as it’s possible to get.
Someone once described Bellowhead as ‘the band destined to bring folk to a wider audience’, then again unless the peculiarity of folk in all its facets already holds you sway then this may just fly across your head – and that would be a shame.
Currently Bellowhead are Jon Boden (lead vocals, fiddle, saw) Benji Kirkpatrick (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin) John Spiers (melodeon, Anglo-concertina) Andy Mellon (trumpet) Justin Thurgur (trombone) Brendan Kelly (saxophone, bass clarinet) Ed Neuhauser (Helicon, tuba) Pete Flood (percussion) Rachael McShane (cello, fiddle, backing vocals) Paul Sartin (fiddle, oboe) and Sam Sweeney (fiddle, pipes).
Reviewer: Tim Carroll