Just to prove that there is life outside of Glasgow during January, I have just been to one of the most entertaining nights of my life, in the company of the vivacious eleven-piece band, Bellowhead -- one of the most exciting sounds to grace the folk world at the moment. Combining traditional material with a burlesque sound, and outstanding musicianship, they really do pack a mighty punch. We arrived at Galeri and the stage was packed with instruments -- it was exciting before the band even took to the stage!
The Ant and Dec of the folk world, Spiers and Boden, provide a solid anchor to the English tradition. To see Spiers juggling between half-a-dozen melodeons and concertinas is truly a sight to behold. As for Jon Boden, well, he provides a real wacky, charismatic stage presence, delivering his lead vocals with such passion and drama. There is nobody that can play the tambourine quite like Jon Boden! Taking centre stage with Spiers and Boden was the equally energetic Benji Kirkpatrick, whose intense, frantic fretwork on guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and banjo was absolutely awesome!
It is the brass section that really provides the powerhouse of Bellowhead, raising the depth and volume of their sound to a whole new level and imbuing the band with a real sense of 'show'. Meanwhile the string section of cello and fiddles adds further drama and weds the sound further to the tradition where necessary.
Finally I can't not mention the enigmatic percussion of Pete Flood who plays with such inventiveness, creating catchy rhythms on all manner of percussive delights, ranging from pretty standard percussion instruments to a delightfully quirky array of cutlery, frying pans and clockwork toys!
The set drew much from their stunning album, "Burlesque," with lively renditions of "Rigs of the Time" and "London Town" being particularly enjoyable. Their arrangements of traditional tunes are absolutely breathtaking and the ferocious interplay between Boden, Spiers and Kirkpatrick is absolute magic! We were also treated to some new repertoire from their forthcoming album -- the song "Fakenham Fair" being memorable, alongside sets of tunes that suggest they’ve upped their game even more with respect to intensity and vigour!
My only frustration tonight was at being welded to my seat when the rapturous music being performed cried out at you to get up and dance! I stamped my feet hard and wriggled awkwardly in my chair -- my pelvic floor has never had so much exercise!! This is a band that you need to stand up for, you need to take part in the experience... to move and be moved.
It is great to see a band like this, who obviously invests so much energy and passion in what they do. They are refreshing and utterly unique, and great ambassadors for the tradition, with a broad appeal that will blast through any genre boundaries. What I admire most about Bellowhead, aside from their genius musicianship, is the effort they put into entertaining the audience -- and the ecstatic response they got from tonight's audience showed that this is very much appreciated. Whatever you do, don’t miss a chance to see Bellowhead live!