PETE SKIDMORE gives the highest possible praise to a group of folk singers who would look at home in a 16th century tavern.

alternative Bellowhead british corssover country english folk folk Gin Jazz olde english music orchestra pete skidmore whiskey

Wednesday 16th November, The Corn Exchange, £16

[rating: 5/5]

Clicking on my name will reveal that I have only written glowing reviews. Cast you aspersions aside; Bellowhead were as close to perfect as it’s possible to get.

Bellowhead aren’t your average indie-folk band, the type that more often than not make me want to drink wine and moan about futility. Rather, they are firmly rooted in an overall feeling of happiness and contentment and the desire to just ‘let go’. A huge outfit consisting of sizeable horn and strings sections, their forte lies in performing traditional British folk songs and shanties to modernised beats and funky riffs. The only suitable analogy I can think of is a Morris dancer on speed.


Bellowhead – Whiskey is The Life of Man, Live from the 2009 BBC Christmas sessions

Following an original set by supporters, Ahab (think Ron Burgundy singing Afternoon Delight), the eleven members of this mini-orchestra strolled on in their characteristic gin-soaked manner. They launched straight into the frankly filthy Yarmouth Town, a Norfolk tale of sailing and prostitution set to a background of New Orleans jazz. Think of it as a beautiful auditory oxymoron. Upbeat numbers were in no short supply, however, with material coming from older albums as well as the recent Hedonism. Highlights included Whiskey is the Life of Man and Fire Marengo, both of which demonstrating Bellowhead’s love of life and decadence.

The cover of Jacques Brel’s ballad Amsterdam allowed frontman Jon Boden’s vocals to shine to the point of virtuosity. But what really elevated this band to the five-starred pedestal were their uninhibited instrumental tracks, mostly derived from traditional melodies but exquisitely orchestrated to accommodate the differing styles. Frog’s Legs and Dragon’s Teeth and Hopkinson’s Favourite were irresistibly danceable, and Sloe Gin goes down as one of the best live tracks I have ever seen.


Bellowhead – Sloe Gin, live at the 2008 Proms

To say that Bellowhead don’t write their own songs would be technically true, but that’s not the point. These stupidly talented musicians take the archaic and transform it into something immense; something that demands not to be taken too seriously. The moral is reaffirmation of life, something which did not go amiss in Week 6.