Bellowhead are still one of the best live folk bands going, there is no doubt about that and if they could be removed from, what is often the stigma tag of folk, they really would be seen as one of the best bands on the live circuit today. Yes there is a lot of showmanship, staged or otherwise but this is what you expect from a Bellowhead gig, wonderful musicianship and pure theatre.
So it was a cold November night outside, though the capacity crowd that was rammed into The Junction One at Cambridge would never have known this as body heat would soon lift the temperature inside. Did I tell you, you really need to get on with the neighbours at a Bellowhead gig because you will be standing with them all night, with very little capacity to move from your spot, except up and down on the jumpy up in the air bits of the set. Fortunately for me I did managed to find some space near the 2nd bar in the Junction, once you negotiated the rabbit warren of doors and corridors in the venue, so although I was standing at the back there was a great sight line of all on stage and drinks at hand.
There were here in support of their 3rd and current CD Hedonism another glorious mix 17th and 18th century songs and stories arranged and played in their inevitable way. They were also selling their new line of Real Ale, also called Hedonism, a recipe put together by band members with the help of Pot Belly Brewery in Kettering, Northamptonshire, though there was an almighty cheer at the start when they announced it had sold out and much quicker than in Oxford, the usual rivalry between the two University towns knows no bounds.
Once again I didn’t take notes of the set list, well it stops you enjoying yourself, though understandably it was peppered with songs from the current album and started with the last track on the CD Yarmouth Town followed by A Begging I will Go while still throwing in some favourites Whiskey Is The Life Of Man, Cholera Camp and Sloe Gin Set. Summoning up all his melodramatic prowess Jon Boden ripped into Jacques Brel song Amsterdam and then Cold Blows the Wind a slightly disturbing song of a young girls love for an older man, an older dead man and her waiting for him by his grave. And no time to rest as he builds up to a manic crescendo with Sally Racket which I remember when I first heard them play this live, earlier in the year, I just thought “what the F…!” Yes a Bellowhead set list is full of prostitution, death, drunkenness, more prostitution, crime and did I mention prostitution. Never mind what the subject manner is about, people are here to dance, jump up and down, drink and above all enjoy themselves and clearly this is what happened here again tonight, in fact it was the encore that got the whole audience to move in unison with the firm favourite of London Town and the Instrumental Frogs Legs and Dragons Teeth
I have read that there is a possibility that during 2011 they are considering a short tour of all seated venues, you have to wonder if this would work and could people remain seated, but I also conclude that there is still an audience out there who would love to see them but are not prepared to stand up all night and not move from their spot, so it could work.
A friend who’s not adverse to seeing Bellowhead on numerous occasion on their tour, was at one of their gigs earlier in the week, he confirmed that in his opinion this was a far better evening, it’s not that the 11 piece band were any better, they always put on a polished performance, no it’s also the audience that can contribute to a great gig, so we were on form tonight.
As the doors opened at the end to let the crowd out on mass, into the sub-zero night air, you could see the steam visibly rising from the bodies as they emerged, but even the plummeting temperature couldn’t dampen the spirits of another memorable night and I’m sure the crowd will be back next time they visit Cambridge, I know I will be.
photo by djh imaging, though taken at The Stables show earlier in the year