The one English folk band that wins more fans outside the folk music circle than any other is Bellowhead, without a doubt…and no, that other London band you may be thinking of is not a folk band even if they do have a banjo.
Despite their fame you cannot accuse them of complacency; they have continued to push that boundary since their formation and have picked up 18 Folk Award nominations in the process. The idea of Bellowhead was conceived by fiddle player Jon Boden and melodeon and concertina player John Spiers back in 2004, a good excuse to get your mates together and go out and have some fun on the festival circuit. Whilst their first two releases gave us a core defining sound (Burlesque and Matachin) it was Hedonism along with the arrival of John Leckie as producer that the sparks really began to fly. The result was an incredible album, unlike anything ever before heard on the English folk scene and the highest-selling independently released traditional folk album of all time. The question left on many peoples lips at that time was how in the hell were they going to top it?
Yesterday marked the release of Bellowhead’s new album ‘Broadside’. In the traditional folk music world the term ‘Broadside’ often refers to the ballads that were printed on cheap paper between the 16th and 19th Century, an early form of newspaper that were sold at public ale houses and big events (hangings being a favourite). Those ballads were often horrific tales an the band make use of some on this release (The Wife of Usher’s Well, Black Beetle Pies).
The other definition which is more widely known (even by my kids) refers to the firing of all guns from one side of a warship…the most deadly and most powerful form of attack. This double combo meaning is as apt a title as any, their tales are laid down in the same way they were on those broadsides…to entertain…and, without a shadow of a doubt, ‘Broadside’ is Bellowhead’s best release to date…all guns blazing!
The album opens to ‘Byker Hill’ a song that is about two Northumbrian collieries in the Newcastle area, the delivery is stabbing, perfectly matched to Boden’s punk –styled delivery embodying a united front of strength. It’s the perfect opener for what’s to come.
What follows is one of many album highlights, a Bellowhead party tune if there ever was one…’Old Dun Cow’ a tale of a public house fire…the men playing dominoes take refuge in the cellar where they begin to have the best party of their lives…drinking the place dry before the fireman arrive.
The whole album had a great upbeat feel to it albeit a darker one at times than Hedonism. But there is plenty of celebratory moments such as the Copper Family classic Thousands or More and Roll the Wodpile Down, even the horrific broadside based Black Beetle Pies (another personal favourite) is perfect for a crowd chorus. In our recent interview with Bellowhead (read it here) Paul Sartin revealed some of the band favourites:
“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.”
The one exception to all these is the very spooky The Wife of Usher’s Well this will just scare the crap out of kids. So play it at full blast on Halloween to keep the little pests away from your front door!
Whether it’s a shanty or a broadside the arrangements are bold and brassy, they will go down a storm at the festivals and I’m sure plenty of dancefloors will be broken (par for the course at a Bellowhead gig).
On Broadside the results speak for themselves, the finale is a great shanty song ‘Go My Way’…the perfect title for a band that have chosen their own path and have kept their faith, no easy task for an 11 strong band but this is, to me, their most defining release to date, which will have huge appeal. Fantastic!
Listen to the full album stream on The Guardian website
Bellowhead Guest Mix:
Listen to the mix Bellowhead put together for us last year