When I was a kid what I knew about traditional folk music was based solely on watching in bewilderment at the people wearing cloth beermat waistcoats who wandered round my home town at the annual folk festival. Nowadays I like a bit of what might be called ‘alternative folk’ - Bonnie Prince Billy, Iron and Wine, etc. Yet, I still don’t know an awful lot about folky folk folk. So, at first it was hard to know what to make of the second Bellowhead album, Matachin (apparently a dance involving swords).
Initially it seemed like the traditions of English folk music were firmly in place with ye olde ballads and whiskey soaked sea shanties abounding. However, the inspiration from jazz, cabaret and also a darker, abstract, circus troupe verve are all evident and you realise that they’re not so easy to label.
They themselves say “above all this is a BIG band” – and with 11 sharp suited Bellowheaders playing 20 instruments the band is certainly big. The mix of the normal folk instrumentation – fiddles, mandolins and guitars – with glockenspiels, trombones, saxophones and frying pans creates a boisterous, quirky and drunken atmosphere. Further, the arrangements are topped off with some fine storytelling. Apart from on angry instrumental jig – ‘Trip to Bucharest’ - the centuries old tales of lost love, cholera and prostitutes who service priests are delivered with a showman’s swagger by lead singer, Jon Boden. And on pieces such as “Roll Her Down The Bay” and “Kafoozalum” the entire band join in and sound like they’re having a right good time of it too.
This probably explains why their live performances have won them high praise from their own scene and beyond. They’ve been the resident band at the Southbank Centre, performed to much applause at the Proms this year and even made a new fan in Chili Peppers frontman Anthony Kiedis after playing on ‘Later... with Jools Holland’.
So, while I thought folk might not be my thing beforehand, I found myself surprisingly enjoying the twists and turns on this album. I like the cut of their jib. Tho not enough to make a waistcoat out of beermats.
25th Sep 2008 - Tumblr3.5
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