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A Brit-folk supergroup, 10-piece BELLOWHEAD (featuring SPIERS & BODEN, DR FAUSTUS members BENJI KIRKPATRICK and Paul Sartin, Rachael McShane, Pete Flood, Giles Lewin, Andy Mellon, Brendan Kelly and Justin Thurgur) kicked off their folk musical campaign with a well-received mini-set-of-sorts, E.P.ONYMOUS (2004) {*6}. Comprising 5 tracks at over 25 minutes, this was country-dance goes gypsy folk via their brassic `Copshawholme Fair’, `Rochdale Coconut Dance’ and the uplifting `Prickle-Eye Bush’.
Initially showcased when invited to perform at the first Oxford Folk Festival in April 2004, BELLOWHEAD were a breath of fresh air for a revived English folk scene; rewards were just around the corner when the won Best Live Act at Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2005.
2006 saw the addition of Gideon Juckes on their debut set BURLESQUE {*7}. An hour in length it featured mostly traditional cues with players on conventional folk instruments (SPIERS and main vocalist BODEN on fiddle and anglo-concertina/melodeon respectively, while adding the chaotic fairground-like exotic brass and string accompaniment (and even bagpipes!) from others; McShane lent vocals to a handful of tracks including `Jordan’, while other highlights were opener `Rigs Of The Time’, `The Outlandish Knight’ and `London Town’.
Equally exciting, MATACHIN (2008) {*8} proved the ensemble were no one-trick pony, songs such as `Fakenham Fair’, `Cholera Camp’ (a Kipling via PETER BELLAMY), the eerie `Widow’s Curse’ and `Bruton Town’ were executed with tight precision for such a large group of individual minstrels; note that Sam Sweeney had now superseded Lewin.
Credited to BELLOWHEAD, but basically pieced together under an umbrella for various individual members, UMBRELLOWHEAD (2009) {*6} was next in line. All but group opener `Unclothed Nocturnal Manuscript Crisis’, the rest of the cuts were a rummage through associated bands including CHAVO (Mellon’s outfit), BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST (Sartin and Co.), Setsubun Bean Unit (Kelly and Flood’s act) and solo/duo offerings from SPIERS & BODEN plus FAUSTUS (Kirkpatrick, Sartin and outsider Saul Rose).
With incomer Ed Neuhauser replacing Juckes, HEDONISM (2010) {*7} hoisted the band to new heights, saddling once again typical sea shanty dirges alongside big trad band folk; from sprightly Celtic opener `New York Girls’ to a reading of JACQUES BREL’s `Amsterdam’, no other group was as ambitious and adventurous as BELLOWHEAD.
Matching the success of SETH LAKEMAN, the glowing ensemble of BELLOWHEAD surprised many in the music business when 2012’s BROADSIDE {*7} breeched the borders of the official Top 20, going silver in the process. Produced by John Leckie, the several weeks it took to record the set yielded a dozen re-arranged traditional cuts, including classy and brassy renditions of `Byker Hill’, `Roll The Woodpile Down’, `10,000 Miles Away’, `Black Beetle Pies’, `Betsy Baker’ and `The Wife Of Usher’s Well’.
To coincide with 10th anniversary concerts in London and Manchester, the eclectic folk-jazz congregation kept up the chart momentum on REVIVAL (2014) {*7}. Full of DEXYS-meets-ALBION BAND styled sea shanties, the highlights on this occasion were `Let Her Run’ (based on `Let The Bulgine Run’), `Roll Alabama’, `Gosport Nancy’, the spacey `Moon Kittens’ and a cover of RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON’s `I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’.
Arriving on the back of a reasonably fruitful PANDEMONIUM – THE ESSENTIAL BELLOWHEAD (2015) {*7} double-CD compilation, the multi-award-winning group decided to call it a day that November (and one later spring gig) via the Top 30 breaker, LIVE – THE FAREWELL TOUR (2016) {*7}. A shindig to end all shindigs, the fun loving cross-breeders of electric prog-folk and jazz, played theirs and everybody’s favourite ye olde tunes. English Folk music will be bereft of these fine musicians – could be the final nail in the coffin. R.I.P. – BELLOWHEAD.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD // rev-up MCS Apr2016

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