“I like Bellowhead”.
“Who?” you ask.
“Bellowhead” I say “a contemporary English folk group”.
“Oh God!” you say, “Not folk music?”.
Or at least that is how I imagine most conversations with the uninitiated would pass on the subject. But Bellowhead is not your average folk group. Oh no. It is an 11 piece folk ‘big-band’ that has headlined concerts for a dozen years and is now, sadly, towards the end of its farewell tour. It is also a band about which The Independent said: “With the exception of The Who, Bellowhead are surely the best live act in the country”.
One of the group, Paul Sartin, has described them thus: “We’re not a period piece band. To be a party band, the music has to be accessible, and therefore contemporary … we use the songs as a template, chuck everything into the mix and see what comes out”. They certainly do and it ticks the “contemporary take on tradition” box that brings both relevance and a wider audience to a sometimes staid cultural heritage.
I mentioned to an acquaintance that is ‘in’ to folk music that I was going to see Bellowhead at the London Palladium. A fairly dismissive reply (“I saw them, they’re just noisy”) immediately identified him as a straw-sucking, acoustic-only, 1960s traditionalist who would gaze softly into the distance whilst listening to the semi-strangulated vibrato of a nasally-congested singer seeking to remove earwax at the same time as spitting out more words than the phrasing within a melody could possibly dictate. Personally, I would rather have a good night out.
And that is why I travelled with ‘Management’ from Aberdeen to the London Palladium where we took part in a shindig of the first order. I won’t go into detail because it was one of those occasions that you had to experience; words alone could not sum it up. Two quick points though: thankfully, the audience appeared very ordinary when contrasted against the imagery of shirtless collars, waistcoats and neck-wringing bandanas that normally conjures up the attire of a stereotypical traditionalist, but more importantly, much more importantly, everyone left grinning widely.