Keeping to its DIY nature and happily struggling to retain a place in this age, folk music still has big name players like Show of Hands and Kate Rusby to retain the older audiences, whilst those new players on the block Frank Turner and Mumford and Sons win over the younger generation. Shame that a divide in age gaps still exists in a genre meant to unite people, but of all the folk outings I’ve been to this year the English group Bellowhead have struck the nearest middle ground, with their combination of rock, traditional influences and a kinetic approach to their live shows.
ToTo warm up their show at the Portsmouth Pyramid Centre the band chose none other than folk boy band Ahab to warm up the stage. Perhaps that description is a little inaccurate, but it certainly is hard to focus on the four-piece group’s superb Americana melodies, tight harmonies and diverse mix of instruments when you’re staring at mandolin player Luke’s fisherman muscles (note: I don’t know if he’s ever been fishing) or twelve string guitar player Callum’s well groomed seventies moustache. The guys were well received by the crowd, with playful attempts to get the audience to applaud them in an attempt to lower the headliner’s ego. Make sure you check out their superb music, including their EP ‘KMVT’ at their website and MySpace.
As the 11 members of Bellowhead found their assorted places on stage, the scattered cluster of music making tools including five accordions, a banjo, a concertina, fiddles, brass instruments and a unique drum setup all rear their purposes with renditions of the band’s new single ‘Cold Blows The Wind’. Vocalist, fiddle and tambourine player and band progenitor Jon Boden has an instantly likeable voice, suitably adapted for the folk sensibilities whilst oozing the British charisma of David Tennant. I hesitate in calling him the band’s front person, because each part of the group carries a unique personality, crowd charming ability and most importantly versatility in just what they know how to play.
The set list took much from last year’s ‘Hedonism’ album but also a couple of numbers from 2008’s ‘Matachin’, including ‘Whiskey is the Life of Man’ and ‘Trip to Bucharest/The Flight of The Folk Mutants Part 1 & 2’. The band’s superb sense of humour is emitted not only through their stage banter, but through all their little instances of playfulness; from the band’s jointly owned Ipad (used to add people to their mailing list), the random outbursts of jigging that through the photographers into a frenzy to the drummer coming to the front of the stage, before returning to his kit to mess with those taking his place…before chasing them away.
For their SECOND ENCORE the band played ‘London Town’, with the crowd dancing and joining in for its infectious chorus. It’s a folk anthem of the purest and best sense of the word and easily the best starter track for the brilliance that is Bellowhead. Look it up.
So, two stellar acts perhaps not so well known amonst the young people, but undoubtedly undeservedly so. There’s nothing about either of these acts that makes them mutually exclusive to a target age group or audience; to suggest so ignores the spirit they embody and the fun they have playing for you.
Bellowhead // The Pyramid Centre // Portsmouth // 24/22/2011
Words > Graham Ashton