Live Reviews

Bellowhead @ Corn Exchange, Cambridge

10 November 2012

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

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

Unfortunately, despite the band’s bestefforts, poor sound mixing meant their performance wasnt quite perfect. While the cinematic brilliance of their arrangement wonthrough eventually, the Old Dun Cow began with a heavily over-exposedbassoon, to name one prominent example of a persistent problem. It was asif the sound engineers were trying to isolate individual instruments, whichsimply doesn’t work when you’re trying to bring out the beautiful harmoniesand not-so-subtle rumblings an 11-piece folk band are capable of.

Yet no Bellowhead gig could be considered a write-off, however dodgythe audio. 10,000 Miles Away is a classic and until very recently in dire need ofa Bellowhead re-versioning, so there was something of a Glastonbury momentwhen the faithful belted out the chorus in the Corn Exchange, however dodgythe 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, hadBellowhead fans been the sort of people to waste their hands on lighterswhen they could have been waving them frantically.
The value ofthe beefed-up stage setup really showed itself during Byker Hill, an oldmining 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’twork, but somehow it does, in a way which is bizarrely compelling.

Bellowhead ticket will always be money well spent. However, bettersound 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