Thursday, 26 January 2012

I've been watching... Bellowhead!

A few months ago I had a dilemma.  It was nearly Christmas, I was pretty skint and on a firm budget and yet... and yet...  Bellowhead, a band I had been dying to see live for two years were going to be touring in 2012.  Their closest stop was the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, and although the ticket prices were decent the date and distance made me do a lot of hmming and haaaaing.  "But it's on a work night.  Can I really spare the money?  No one else I know wants to go..." and then "Oh SCREW IT!  How long have I wanted to see them for?  And when will they next be so close?  Stuff it all, I'm going."  So I very naughtily bought myself a Christmas present with money I didn't exactly have spare yet and went on my own this evening.  Drove up there on my own, had dinner on my own, went to the concert on my own.

I loved it.

The video I've linked below just does not do them justice.  From the moment the first band member walks on stage they start to build up this slightly nutty energy which floats along through the entire gig and infects the audience (not that we needed the help.  It seems that Bellowhead fans are the kind of people that grin and giggle a lot).  It's helped by the motley combination of players too; for frontmen you have Jon Boden - who is hugely tall and stands there crook-kneed and slouching like a walking Tim Burton character, the most enthralling stick man you've ever seen - and John Spiers - who is in a tweed jacket and looks more like the beaming offspring of Stephen Fry and Mr Mole, but a quite bit cooler than either with his fingers flashing up and down the melodian keys with an ease that is so awesome it's sickening.  You continue looking round and although you always expect it from the drummer clearly the rest of them are just as bonkers (in the good way.  You should see the brass section dance!), and you can't help thinking 'Thank goodness they all found each other.  What on earth would they have done otherwise?'

(but like I said, even you can see them better this video doesn't really do them justice  To watch it live was a bit more like this)

Every one of the band seems to be able to play at least three instruments frustratingly well, and to swap between them with such speed that unless you're staring right at them as they do it you never actually see them move.  Although they're a folk band playing old shanties and jigs most of the song arrangements have the kind of progression you'd expect from a classical orchestra, bridges pinched from jazz and ska, and musically speaking they are just so tight.  Barely a millisecond out of place, despite some pretty funky key signatures that would throw most people off even if they had the sheet music infront of them.  You can see how aware of each other they are as a band; there's all these little glances and nods and gestures shooting round the stage that connects them all together.  Even when the drummer mistakenly started a different song to the one that the others thought they were playing, no one so much as blinked.  Instead they all immediately cracked up laughing, someone yelled "Ok, let's do that one!" and everyone scrambled for the right instruments for a grand total of three seconds before they were off again without missing a beat.  The set had all the good stuff.  They began with Jordan and Whiskey is the Life of Man, and the encore was New York Girls...

And then for a second encore they did Sloe Gin Set...

And then Parson's Farewell...

And then Frog's Legs and Dragon's Teeth...

"We can probably squeeze in one more!" yells Boden.  Finally we ended, for real, on London Town.

By this point the entire audience, who had been trying very hard to sit in it's seats like the well-behaved British music-lovers that we were for at least the first half of the show (why they thought it was worth booking a venue with chairs in it when the music was clearly the kind of stuff you had to stomp along to at the very least, I have no idea), had long since given up decorum and been dancing in the rows and clapping our hands raw since somewhere after the first half.  When we eventually left the theatre we were very sweaty and smelly and pleased.   We all had a stonking good time.

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