Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bellowhead @ Derby Assembly Rooms 26 November 2011

Last year, Bellowhead lost out on having access to a big space at Derby and had to content themselves with the ridiculously small space of the Darwin Suite at Derby Assembly Rooms.

It was VERY full indeed.

This year, thankfully, they got the large Assembly Rooms space itself --- and it was STILL rammed to the rafters (plus full on the seated areas too).

Seeing Bellowhead is always a joyous event --- this is the fifth time I've seen them (Derby Folk Festival, Nottingham Trent University, Derby Darwin Suite, Summer Sundae 2011), and I've never finished their sets less than bouncy, deliriously happy, and utterly soaked to the skin in sweat. I usually have to 'wash' my hair in cold water to at least make it so it's only water running down my back and not icky perspiration.

But I don't care. Songs about death, sailors, fairs, unrequited love, whores, drink, and death (always death), with the finest tunes you could hope to hear to get your feet tapping (I'd need to have broken legs to want to see Bellowhead from a seated position - they are MADE to be bounced and danced to with high spirits).

They opened with a firm (old) favourite of Jordan - which had me singing along from the start - and ended with bouncing. It was as ever mucho fun.

What always charms me about them is that they are such a great collective - yes, Jon Boden is a fine charismatic front-man, in turns manic, beguiling, faux-bashful and intense - but everyone gets their moments in the limelight throughout the show. It's hard to resist the bouncing dancing of the brass section (Andy Mellon on trumpet is usually one of the first to command more clapping and bouncing from the audience) and the pose-striking humour of the strings section (led by the ever laconic Paul Sartin), let alone the jumping-from-the-speakers mandolin player Benji Kirkpatrick and the steady preparedness of percussionist Peter Flood to break his ad hoc percussive accoutrements. and we should not forget Boden's partner in folk - Jon Spiers - who came on before the gig to check his pedals etc dressed in a workman's coat and wearing the most ludicrous fake beard ever ---- given he'd gone for a great Movember moustache anyway, I'm not sure what the disguise was for, but he plays accordions like a demon. (And a special mention for saxophonist Brendan Kelly who not only manages the excess of playing two instruments simultaneously, but also risked his life in Derby by declaring his home town as Nottingham. Dangerous!)

Consequently, they are a folk band, but this is as far as you can get from anything staid and boring (if that's what you mistakenly believe Folk to be). They certainly have a sense of fun like no other band you can imagine - witness their Bus Song a Day to accompany their tour, which saw them become superheroes for the visit to Derby.

In fact you can get a good idea of their approach from their YouTube channel - thisisbellowhead.

But there is something special about seeing them live, and the audience interaction/engagement with their music: this is captured quite well in this video of one of their recent gigs doing an established favourite 'London Town' (with its crowd-yelling chorus - with simple hand dance movements - of "up to the rigs, down to the jigs, up to the rigs of London Town')

And for sense of their climatic excitement, this video (complete with joyous shrieks from the audience) sums up the exultant pleasure of a Bellowhead gig.

I recommend them to anyone who gets chance to see them, and if you cannot, then at least get hold of one of their live DVDs and/or watch them live on YouTube. It's an uplifting experience you should enjoy.

Additional Note
A little mention for Ahab who provide a very pleasant Americana-style support to Bellowhead. Good harmonies, some fine guitar-playing and great engagement with an audience - despite such a significant majority not being there to see them. Being support is never easy, but Ahab did a fine job of the task, winning new appreciators of their style.

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