Thursday, 31 July 2014

New Music: Bellowhead - "Revival"

Bellowhead are an 11-piece British folk band that are relatively unknown in these here parts. That said, they are about to celebrate the tenth year of their existence. "Revival" is their fifth album, and the first I've heard. It was suggested from some friends of mine from ol' Blighty. And that's a good thing - otherwise I'd have never listened to this at all.

To give some perspective on their sound, Bellowhead are a band that play traditional English folk tunes, such as sea shanties and work songs, with rollicking arrangements for folk ensemble and an expansive brass section. They play the sometimes ancient tunes with a fire-and-brimstone gusto that leaves one with no doubt about the conviction they have in themselves and their material.

The band mines a similar volume of traditional folk material that classic artists such as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span used to inhabit. That's where the comparisons with these bands ends, however. Musically, they chart their own course. Imagine a minstrel performance at a quaint little English country Fayre gatecrashed by Tom Waits' drunken "Rain Dogs"-era band. They'll make one hell of a sound and a splendid time will be had by all, really.

From all reports, Bellowhead totally own the stage in a live setting. With an 11 piece band, the sound would be immense. But here's the rub - something about the live vibe is missing on record. The arrangements here are tight, lyrics are sung with confidence and the whole band play their parts with earnestness. However, my initial thoughts were that there is a lot about the Bellowhead experience that is lost on me. Maybe it's because my personal cultural influences are far removed from those of the British, I don't know. I am, however, finding "Revival" more appealing with each subsequent listen. The more you listen, the more things you hear that you didn't hear the first time.  But there's something about being in a pub with 500 sweaty punters listening to this music that somehow won't make it onto vinyl...

Look out for the rowdy tunes "Let Union Be", "Let Her Run", "Roll Alabama", the moody "Moon Kittens", and their sublime take on [Fairport Convention guitarist] Richard Thompson's song "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight".

I did manage to find the track-by-track commentary that Spotify have to accompany the album. I have sequenced it in amongst the album proper in the playlist below, and it helped me get an idea as to what the band is all about and where the songs came from.

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