I was first introduced to Bellowhead a few years back, they had played at a Radio 2 gig in London and tracks were being used quite heavily in the weeks following the show. From these early offerings, I knew that the band was larger than most, how much larger? I couldn't be sure but larger nonetheless.
We were invited to Exeter to see them play at the Great Hall on Sunday 17th November, so we rocked up expecting to be blown away…..we were not disapointed!
Opening up proceedings was Sheffield based musician Neil McSweeney, he played a mixture of styles including folk, blues, and from what I heard on one track in particular, some kick ass rock n' roll. He played for just under 30 minutes, highlights for me being 'Long Way Round' from his debut album (Remember To Smile), and from his most recent offering (Cargo), he played a great track called 'Be Your Own Dog', which I initially misheard as 'Being a Dog' (thank earplugs)…
His stage presence and crowd interaction skills were second to none, he mentioned that if you ever get the chance, you should take a look around the back stage area of the Exeter Great Hall venue but urged anyone to take a ball of wool with them as it is like a maze!
He was assisted by the fabulous acoustic guitar and double bass playing skills of Vera Van Heeringen and later on, the awesome drumming skills of Sam Sweeney who later featured a starring role in the cast of Bellowhead.
McSweeney ended his set to rapturous applause from the near sell out crowd.
Time went by, drinks were imbibed and banter was had, it was then time for the main event….
The stage looked like it was setup for a full choir and backing musicians, I lost count of the amount of microphone stands and instruments stood ready, waiting to be plucked, strummed and blown. The mighty 22 legged force majeure that is Bellowhead took to the stage and burst into their opening track. I thought that Jon Boden said that it was called 'Georgian' but my ears (which were now ringing) had obviously deceived me as a nice lady called Maureen advised me that the track was in fact called 'Jordan'.
From here, they played classic tracks from their more than plentiful back catalogue, including '10,000 MIles Away', 'Betsy Baker', 'Roll The Woodpile Down' and 'Sloe Gin'. They upped the ante a little with a shanty that initially baffled and confused prior to amusing me as it secured the fact that the band were clearly all completely mad or at least well on their way to being sectioned…possibly the latter.
Their sound was pitch perfect, tighter than an airlock and as melodic as a chorus of angels, I particularly enjoyed the playfulness of the brass section, the general liveliness of the whole thing and the way that they could each play at least 147 instruments, I even saw the drummer (who remained standing up throughout the show) banging a frying pan in an earlier song.
The band announced that they would be playing a couple of 10th Anniversary shows in April 2014, The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London which would be a perfect venue to enjoy the band. Click HERE to purchase these tickets before they sell out (as they no doubt will....fast)
Sadly, I had to leave prior to the encore but having spoken to the official photographer earlier in the evening he said that the band had been playing their Christmas Number One contender when they took to the stage (at previous shows on this tour) for the second time, whether this happened or not, I am sure it went down a storm.
So, 11 band members, god only knows how many instruments on the stage, (I would hazard a guess at over 20 but this is anyone's guess) and a room full of music loving fans, the perfect combination to compliment a rather chilly evening in Exeter that ended oh so well for anyone attending this energetic and pleasing live event, see you at the Royal Albert Hall next year!
Words - Steve Muscutt
Photos - Julian Baird