Released: 4th October
“They take outrageous but enthralling liberties with some of folk’s hardy veterans…they sweep it all before them into a heady mix of great tunes, innovative arrangements, rampant imagination and brazen front…Extraordinary.” MOJO
The past six years have seen Bellowhead progress from being a band whose sole intention was to ‘have fun at festivals’ to recording two acclaimed albums (Burlesque, Matachin), performing at the 2008 BBC Proms, becoming Band in Residence at the Southbank Centre and being voted Best Live Act at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards no less than four times. And that’s not including the DVD release plus UK and North American Tours. And now we have a glorious third album, Hedonism, produced by the legendary John Leckie, released on October 4th with a full UK tour beginning at the Bristol Old Vic on 11th November (also including dates at The Sage - 15th Nov and Shepherds Bush Empire - 20th Nov. Full tour dates overleaf).
Formed in 2004 by renowned duo John Spiers (melodeon, concertina) and Jon Boden (vocals, fiddle), this 11-piece big band fuses an unparalleled amount of individual musical talent into something unique and truly uplifting. With fellow band-members Pete Flood (percussion); Justin Thurgur (trombone); Brendan Kelly (saxophone, bass clarinet); Andy Mellon (trumpet); Paul Sartin (oboe, fiddle); Rachael McShane (cello, fiddle); Ed Neuhauser (helicon, tuba); Benji Kirkpatrick (guitar, mandolin, bouzouki) and Sam Sweeney (fiddle, pipes) Bellowhead honour centuries of English musical tradition while at the same time constantly pressing forward into the future. On Hedonism, their magical third studio album, nothing and everything has changed. As ever, the music is a delirious amalgam of schooled musicianship and uproarious, anarchic abandon. Working with John Leckie (Stone Roses, Radiohead, Muse) and recorded at Abbey Road Studios, the band embellish their traditional English core with the scale and theatricality of Arcade Fire, the unsparing, bittersweet worldview of Jacques Brel, all served with a sprinkling of skewed humour.
Musically, Hedonism is a heady mix. The seventeenth century English folk standard ‘A Begging I Will Go’ is dragged thrillingly into the modern age, its ancient roots mixed with echoes of ska, Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme From Shaft’ and a Louisiana jug band. Elsewhere, there’s the grubby dockside poetry of Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ and the venerable Child Ballad, ‘Cold Blows the Wind’, where sublime brass creates an atmosphere of ecstatic mourning. Inspired by AL Lloyd, ‘The Hand Weaver’ provides a refreshingly tough female central character, while the deranged, throwing out time, Barbershop-punk-folk version of ‘Little Sally Rackets’ is inspired by a bootleg recording of the Young Tradition from a 60s folk club. ‘Broomfield Hill’ tells a tale closely related to the ‘outlandish knight’ stories depicted in ancient cave drawings: the tune is from ‘Bogie’s Bonny Belle’ and features English bagpipes, while the chorus is borrowed from a verse in a Robin Hood ballad. ‘New York Girls’ has equally exotic origins: a raucous polka that somewhere along the line boarded a ship, acquired ‘forebitter’ lyrics and became a shanty.
It adds up to a truly compelling album. Punctuated with galloping instrumentals and breezy acoustic pop, a bawdy joie de vivre runs through Hedonism, something that those lucky enough to have witnessed the band live will recognise. Although this is a Bellowhead album through and through, the influence of John Leckie is apparent. There is a real sense that Hedonism is a landmark achievement in the band’s history and one that captures the dynamism and energy of one of the UK’s finest live bands, regardless of genre.