Bellowhead - 'That's all Folks'.
Gig review by Dawn. Photos by Dawn and Rich.
After eleven years and five studio albums, Bellowhead are calling it a day.
Following frontman Jon's decision to step down, the eleven piece folk phenomenon are going their separate ways – just as soon as they've taken their gloriously uplifting live show on the road one last time.
So forget any thoughts that there may be a sombre atmosphere amongst the audiences or even (heaven forbid) a half-hearted attitude from the band members themselves as they embark on their final fling. As we've come to discover over the last decade, Bellowhead are no ordinary band – and they've certainly never been known to do things by halves. Performing updated versions of traditional folk songs in their usual spectacular style, even on their farewell tour they are clearly still having the time of their lives.
Packed to the rafters and full of energy right from the off, the Sheffield crowd were a complete credit to their city. People young, old and all ages in between danced, clapped, sung their hearts out and reminded everyone just how big a hole there will be in the music world once the tour is over. The roof-raising chants of "we want more" before the first encore were of a volume more usually heard on the terraces of nearby Bramall Lane or Hillsborough, and further proof of how Bellowhead's shows and music ignite a passion like few other acts.
It's a passion that's shared and demonstrated by every single member of the band. With eleven people onstage vying for your attention there's always the risk that one or two of them may go unnoticed, but at various moments their individual personalities all shine through – be it in Andy, Brendan and Justin's synchronised dancing, Sam and Rachael's ongoing fiddle wars, or Ed proving he's not the slightest bit hindered by his cumbersome helicon as he jigs impressively whilst precariously balanced on the highest point of the stage set.
From the party atmosphere of the up-tempo numbers and the raucous, out-and-out fun of Little Sally Racket to the stripped back vocal duet of Captain Wedderburn (which shows Rachael's voice to be as captivating as her ever-present sparkly shoes), Bellowhead remind everyone that they have many strings to their musical bow. Witty intros are shared between various band members, as are the usual array of grin-inducing dance moves and disco poses (take a bow, Paul), while half of the band (no doubt led by the mischievous brass section) return to the stage wearing hard hats for the encore. Why? Who cares - it's simply another masterclass in how to showcase extraordinary musicianship whilst never taking yourself too seriously. Benji and Sam, meanwhile, end one song in a pile on the floor having taken part in a musical duel centre-stage - the icing on the cake being when Rachael then steps daintily over them without so much as a raised eyebrow, as if it's just another day at the office.
With so many characters onstage, it can be difficult to know where to look and who to watch lest you miss something. When he's not wielding one of his vast array of instruments (alongside his fiddle, tonight he plays tin whistle, thunder tube, bells and tambourine) Jon covers most of the stage and climbs up to sing from various vantage points throughout the night. Benji goes one better by climbing into a covered box and then comically reappearing from it whilst never missing a note, and I will forever be in awe of Sam's boundless energy and ability to dazzle with his fiddling whilst simultaneously resembling an over-excited puppy leaping around the stage.
Despite Bellowhead having long sat comfortably at the top of my list of favourite live bands, I've always refrained from reviewing them simply because I never felt capable of doing them justice. Their performances have been marvellous, moving and utterly magical and have, I'm sure, meant the world to countless other people who, like me, discovered that the best tonic when feeling down was to put on your dancing shoes and spend an evening being bewitched by some of folk's finest entertainers.
So farewell Bellowhead. The world will be a duller place without you. You were eleven in a million.
With thanks to Bellowhead and also to Paul V - without whom I may never have discovered the wonders of Mr Boden and his band of merry men (and woman).