Live Music + Gig Reviews

Bellowhead @ Corn Exchange, Cambridge

10 November 2012



The Broadside tour arrived with airs and graces not familiar to regulars of the folk scene. A flamboyant, nautically-themed stage setup placed the band on the deck of a ship (a nod to acclaimed new release Broadside). What’s more, they welcomed a support band to the stage in the form of Mama Rosin. A band who live together at the foot of the Alps and grow their own organic vegetables. As you do. Musically, they were pleasant enough, but so samey that the audience needed to be specifically told that the next song was a ‘love song,’ so similar to the others did it sound.

Bellowhead were worth the wait, however. Even when they launched into their set with Black Beetle Pies, a bizarre, unnerving number which came out of leftfield. Yet Jon Boden just about had the swagger to pull it off. Their new album featured heavily in the set, bringing suitably cinematic reworkings of folk favourites to a crowd eager to hear to them -the decision to keep the floor of the Corn Exchange standing only allowed for some serious jigging.

Unfortunately, despite the band’s best efforts, poor sound mixing meant their performance wasnt quite perfect. While the cinematic brilliance of their arrangement won through eventually, the Old Dun Cow began with a heavily over-exposed bassoon, to name one prominent example of a persistent problem. It was as if the sound engineers were trying to isolate individual instruments, which simply doesn’t work when you’re trying to bring out the beautiful harmonies and not-so-subtle rumblings an 11-piece folk band are capable of.

Yet no Bellowhead gig could be considered a write-off, however dodgy the audio. 10,000 Miles Away is a classic and until very recently in dire need of a Bellowhead re-versioning, so there was something of a Glastonbury moment when the faithful belted out the chorus in the Corn Exchange, however dodgy the sound levels of Jon Boden’s actual vocals. Meanwhile, Betsy Baker, half-Emmerdale theme, half-Gary Barlow comeback, provided areal lighters-in-the-air moment – or at least would have done, had Bellowhead fans been the sort of people to waste their hands on lighters when they could have been waving them frantically.

The value of the beefed-up stage setup really showed itself during Byker Hill, an old mining song. Through some sweeping spotlights and awesome guitar, Boden’smen had a touch of the good old fashioned rockstar about them. Elswehere, Little Sally Racket is still mental, still brilliant. It really shouldn’t work, but somehow it does, in a way which is bizarrely compelling.

A Bellowhead ticket will always be money well spent. However, better sound engineering would have made this truly a night to remember.

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More on Bellowhead
Bellowhead @ Corn Exchange, Cambridge
Bellowhead – Broadside
Bellowhead @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Bellowhead – Hedonism
Bellowhead – Matachin