As Bellowhead leave a trail of wrecked dancefloors in their wake, it’s no wonder the 11-piece force of nature have dominated the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Live Group category – earning eight nominations in eight years, and five wins.
“We’ve broken the dance floor three times,” confesses Bellowhead’s Paul Sartin. “The first time was at Sidmouth Folk Festival, but it’s happened twice at Towersey.
“I should say that’s not us that broke the floor, it was the audience! The last time, they [Towersey Folk Festival] had this beautiful sprung wooden floor, which the week before had been used for a presentation of Land Rovers or Range Rovers, so it had had these big heavy vehicles on, and survived. But it didn’t survive our audience….”
As the band prepare for their third appearance at the enduring Oxfordshire festival on Friday 25 August 2012, they’re hoping the floor will remain intact. Kind of.
“Hopefully it’ll be third time lucky,” Paul laughs. “But I think people might be disappointed if it doesn’t break! So things might be slightly… rowdy.”
The summer has seen the collective, who’ve picked up a total of 18 Folk Award nominations since 2005, zigzag across the country (and further afield) for a string of profile festival appearances which has seen them hang out with Bruce Forsyth at Hop Farm (nice chap, evidently), enjoy sets from Adam and the Ants and Patti Smith, and wow the Danish audiences.
“The festivals have been very varied, quite different types of festivals,” Paul reckons. “From folk festivals like Cropredy, where they’re all into folk, folk rock and associated genres, to things like T In The Park, which is more rock or pop, where the audiences are different, but no less appreciative.”
This flurry of activity helps pave the way for the band’s fourth album, Broadside (scheduled for release on Monday 15 October) , their much anticipated follow-up to 2010’s Hedonism – the biggest selling independent traditional folk album ever!
How to follow such a notable smash – which resulted in a slew of sell-out gigs, rave reviews and more awards – has resulted in a few furrowed brows as the ‘Heads feel the pressure…
“Yes, there is some pressure. We’ve got the places we didn’t expect, and the album got to places we also didn’t expect too. It’s all been a pleasure, a delight, but following up Hedonism has been a tall order, we’ve done a lot of thinking on how to make it different. The pressure is on, but all we can do … is the best we can do.”
With the recession continuing to bite hard, the band are aware this could impact on both album and ticket sales – regardless of how good the album is (and it is very good!). But multi-instrumentalist Paul (who has also picked up acclaim as part of Belshazzar’s Feast and Dr Faustus) and the band remain positive and focused.
“As musicians, you just have to do your job the best you can, and be slightly equivocal about it all. If the album is bigger than Hedonism, it is… if not, then not. That may not mean it’s a lesser album. We’ve just got to keep the faith and let the music business get on with what they do.”
After the raw energy of Hedonism, recorded with producer John Leckie at the famed Abbey Road studios, Broadside finds the combo taking a slightly different approach. Though Leckie was back at the controls, the group opted for a very different, yet still legendary, studio, Rockfield, the Monmouthshire venue favoured by such luminaries as Hawkwind, Queen, Oasis, Robert Plant and Coldplay.
“It was a different experience with John [Leckie] at Rockfield from last time. Rather than being in the middle of a city, we were surrounded by fields, and sheep and horses. John’s a very calming influence, very wise, we refer to his judgement, [and] he’s good at keeping 11 individuals happy. The studios were residential too, so we all put on weight as being starving musicians, we weren’t used to three meals a day.
“Being in that rural setting didn’t influence the songs as we’d got them sorted previous to that, so we were well rehearsed – probably more so that the last album. But it was nice to go for a walk in the woods, up to the castle ruins, it keeps you sane.”
Their PR describes the collection as ‘bigger, bolder, brassier and more brazen than ever’.
“Broadside is slightly more full on, slightly more rocky,” clarifies Paul. “The last album was a party album; this is a lot darker on the whole, it has a harder edge. It was also done slightly less live. The last one was about capturing a live performance; this one is more ‘studio’, more of a recording, if you know what I mean, but we’ve still kept that live feel, that live atmosphere.”
Energetic and theatrical, with a good dose of “anarchy” and “chaos”, it includes such songs as The Copper Family’s Thousands Or More, sea shanty Go My Way, and Northumbrian mining song Byker Hill.
Paul’s highlights include: “Black Beetle Pies, we all like, it’s quite off the wall, a bit gruesome, theatrical. And I do like Betsy Baker, which is a bit like Britpop, has that old Britpop feel, in a post-Beatles sense, and Roll The Woodpile Down, which is in an ‘80s rock style, we all enjoy.”
Those who’ve managed to catch the band live at their summer festival appearances may have clocked a couple of tracks sneaking into the current repertoire already.
“We’ve been steadily feeding in a trickle of songs from Broadside into the set. We do 10,000 Miles and Betsy Baker, and Roll The Woodpile Down occasionally. But we won’t be doing many more until people are more familiar with the album,” he says. “It’s a gradual process, but by the time it’s out, we’ll be playing pretty much the whole album, alongside the old favourites, of course.”
There is another reason why only two-three new tunes are cropping up, as Paul explains with a laugh: “We still have to learn the songs and rehearse them. That’s quite a challenge, to get them up to scratch, get all the sounds right and cheesy dance moves sorted.”
Interview by: Dave Freak
Towersey Folk Festival, Thursday 23 to Monday 27 August 2012
For tickets and more information, see: towerseyfestival.com
Broadside Tour Dates
Tue 6th Nov Wolverhampton, Wulfrun Hall
Wed 7th Nov London, Roundhouse
Thu 8th Nov St Albans, Arena
Fri 9th Nov Norwich, Open
Sat 10th Nov Cambridge, Corn Exchange
Sun 11th Nov Southampton, Guildhall
Mon 12th Nov Cardiff, Coal Exchange
Tue 13th Nov Brighton, Dome
Wed 14th Nov Reading, The Hexagon
Thu 15th Nov Leamington, The Assembly
Fri 16th Nov York, Barbican
Sat 17th Nov Bristol, Colston Hall
Sun 18th Nov Salford, The Lowry
Mon 19th Nov Gateshead, The Sage
Tue 20th Nov Inverness, The Ironworks
Wed 21st Nov Edinburgh, The Queen’s Hall
Thu 22nd Nov Bradford, St George’s Hall
Fri 23rd Nov Lincoln, Engine Shed
Sat 24th Nov Derby, Assembly Rooms
Broadside is released on 15 Oct 2012 via Navigator Records. Pre-order here