Belshazzar's Feast were already underway when Neil and I arrived at Trent Uni last night: a shame as Paul Sartin of the duo is one of the brilliantly humourous string section of Bellowhead. Anyway, what we caught was great and I'll be muttering Owestry in a drunken accent for quite some time (it sounds the same as when sober), and chuckling over he and Paul Hutchinson's 'argument' about whether a song came from Denmark or Portugal for even longer (you probably had to be there)!
We first saw Bellowhead approximately 1 year ago over at the Derby Folk Festival 2008. It was a wonderful experience, so it was with a certain expectation and trepidation we headed to see them at Nottingham's Trent Uni. Would we have room to dance? But would it nevertheless be full enough to raise a ruckus? In almost perfect balance, yes to both.
I mentioned in my previous review that frontman Jon Boden is a powerfully charismatic presence: he has slightly gaunt features, an intense gaze and a performing style that is utterly theatrical. Somehow even when busy playing the fiddle he manages to engage with the audience with dramatic gestures; when free of such strings commitment, his tambourine playing keeps a rhythm that involves both his body and hands. With 11 people on the stage, it almost seems unfair to attend to him, but dressed in his stark three-piece black suit and short -- and shocking pink tie -- it can be difficult to take your eyes off him.
Still, as I say, this is an 11-piece collective and it's worth remembering that it is Bellowhead that is the side-project rather than the individual performers who make up the band. So in a strange twist of typical group dynamics it is Belshazzar's Feast (the support act on this occasion) who are actually the real thing - alongside such acts as Spiers and Boden, strings player Rachael McShane, Kerfuffle with violinist Sam Sweeney, and Faustus and Boomarang with Benji Kirkpatrick.
What makes a Bellowhead concert so memorable is how they get audiences dancing: Nottingham took a while to warm up (though we were personally early adopters of jigging enthusiastically) but by the end there was plenty of full blown bouncing taking place (I even spotted the lovely Mike heartily bopping away). With tracks to sing along to - Jordan, London Town, Kafoozalum (with kazoos!) and lots more - plus all the instrumental boppy stuff too - Frogs Legs and Dragons Teeth especially has the 'boing!' factor - there was a lot to keep us going. And with their posing and their dancing on stage, the band themselves scarcely let a moment pass for the audience to rest up.
A thoroughly wonderful evening which left me so drenched from sweat that I washed my hair under the taps at the venue afterwards!