|The many, merry members of Bellowhead|
And on first listen, initial fears seem to be well justified. Set opener Rigs Of The Time sounds discordant and disjointed. It’s as though each of Bellowhead’s 11 members are playing a different song at a different speed to each other.
But once they’ve got over this, Bellowhead settle into being one of the most enthusiastic, euphoric bands you could ever wish to see. There’s an inherent danger in reviewing one of their gigs that the use of the phrase 'unfettered joy' could start to grate through over-use. But it’s as good a description as any to do them justice.
The Radio 2 Folk Award winners are a band that wants to have fun. Trumpeter Andy Mellon in particular looks like he’s expecting a gloved finger to tap him on the shoulder and tell him he’s due back on the bins in five minutes, so he’s cramming as much in while he still can. His enthusiasm in teaching the sell-out crowd the Lasso and Squid dances is infectious.
The rambunctious nature of the group’s songs is due in no small part to the meld of instruments on stage. Luscious strings are thrown into the mix along with the oom-pah of a sousaphone and the fantastically frenetic brass section and melodium. Jon Boden’s vocals veer from tender (If You Will Not Have Me) to boisterous (London Town) and are just as important as any other sound that comes from the stage, not least that from the hardest working drummer since Keith Moon.
A nice touch in giving a local connection with Rochdale Coconut Dance more than justifies the ‘funky’ tag and part of the first encore involves the mega-group being introduced to the audience. It’s a gesture which is almost of song-length itself but nonetheless delightful.
It’s clichéd to say it though almost certainly true, but Bellowhead really are like nothing else you’ve ever heard before. It is dance music for those whose chemical stimulation is nothing more than a pint of real ale and it’s wonderful.