Bellowhead’s 10th Birthday bash in Manchester U.K.
A few weeks ago, Spiers and Boden played at the Royal Northern College of Music here in Manchester as part of their final tour as a duo. As ever, it was a heartfelt and hugely-entertaining show. But Bellowhead, the frankly rather unlikely eleven-piece folk-jazz-burlesque ensemble they embarked upon ten years ago with a posse of like-minded musical adventurers, has become so popular that even this hard-working pair simply no longer had time to commit to both. So there seemed a certain appropriateness to the fact that they closed that RNCM set with an old favourite of theirs, The Prickle-Eye Bush, the same song with which they opened the very special Tenth Birthday Bash Bellowhead threw for themselves (and a sold-out audience!) at the Bridgewater Hall.
It was an appropriately joyful occasion for band and audience alike, featuring much silliness with balloons and model airplanes as well as, crucially, a veritable feast of finely-tuned music that convincingly demonstrated just why they’ve been acclaimed as Best Live Act at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards an amazing five times.
It also provided a scintillating overview of their brilliant career so far, performed chronologically and complete with marketing-friendly visuals of the relevant album covers – a useful primer for latecomers to their joyful noise and something of a treat for longer-term fans who got to hear a bevy of old favourites given a rollicking rejig. Thus, proceedings kicked off with the aforementioned Prickle-Eye Bush from their first EP, E.P. Onymous (geddit?), before belting interval-wards with some prime selections from Burlesque and Matachin.
I believe Bellowhead are just about the best live band in the land right now and probably the only people who don’t think so are those who’ve yet to experience them. As audacious as they are adept, with a frontman in the long tall shape of Jon Boden who is surely well in the running for the most shameless showman around, these musicians – and there are lots of them! – give a very convincing impression of being able to play pretty much anything they put their minds to, all in a manner once described by none other than Led Zeppelin as “tight but loose”.
But this was a great gig even by their standards, besting even the, erm, challenging acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall and its overall lifelessness.
By the time of the Second Half, we were in the land of the band’s commercial breakthrough, the splendid Hedonism and Broadsides sets, with fiery renditions of the crowd-pleasing likes of Yarmouth Town or Roll The Woodpile Down juxtaposed with the bizarre and unwholesome tale of Black Beetle Pies.
So with Parts One to Five of their story accounted for with one EP and four albums down, what could possibly constitute Part Six, as promised on the back-projection? It speaks volumes for the braveness of this most intrepid of bands that they were actually previewing material at the climax of their set from a new album which, as the show started, hadn’t even been heard of, let alone heard by any of the audience! Said album, as it turns out, is coming out on the historic Island label (pink labels, memories of Fairport Convention and all!) on June 23rd. It’s called Revival and if this preview was anything to go by, should be another scorcher. There’s even Richard And Linda Thompson cover on there, I’m promised.
But, despite the jokey protestations on the big screen, that wasn’t quite the end of it, of course. The rambunctious London Town, New York Girls, and Frog’s Legs And Dragon’s Teeth (which sounds a bit like a slightly surreal tour itinerary, don’t you think?) were quite exciting enough to send the audience reeling into the night but there were even fireworks and a birthday cake.
Here’s to another “decade of decadence”!