We Write Lists Interviews: Bellowhead
Bellowhead have been everywhere these last two weeks or so – an invigorating live performance on Later With Jools Holland, radioplay aplenty and several appearances in my phone’s inbox as various friends have texted me ‘Have you heard this new band Bellowhead? Folk!’ or something not all that dissimilar. Bellowhead aren’t a new band though – their newest release, the ecstatic Hedonism is in fact their third album, following the critical acclaim of Burlesque and Matachin. Perhaps it’s the contemporary folk resurgence that is bringing Bellowhead to our attention only now. Perhaps not. Whatever the answer, WWL leapt at the chance to interview the most exciting band in traditional folk for years…
We Write Lists: Your new album continues the band’s efforts in taking traditional English folk songs and reinventing them – how did you come to choose the tracks for Hedonism?
Our usual process is for individuals to present their arangements to the band for general approval, a system which so far has worked without many rejections or ruffled feathers! We all have differing knowledge of and experience in traditional music, so it’s exciting and occasionally suprising to see what comes up. The final choice of tracks for the album was in the hands of our producer, John Leckie, who proved a wise and tactful arbiter.
On record the music really manages to come across as though you’re enjoying yourselves, and you get the feeling that Bellowhead live doesn’t sound all that different to Bellowhead on CD. How do you approach your live shows?
We are indeed predominantly a live band – we love to show off – and both we and the production team worked hard to capture this on record, by, for instance, having us record together in one studio (Abbey Road 2), and keeping overdubs to a minimum. Having toured together for so long has given us an affinity with each other, musical and otherwise, and we hope this comes across on the CD and in our gigs.
Have you any songs you’d like to put onto your next record, or haven’t got around to yet, but have been meaning to?
We may have a few spare tracks from the Abbey Road sessions up our sleeve . . .
Why did you decide to develop the Hedonism ale?
Traditional music and beer seem to have gone hand in hand for aeons, so it was almost a logical move to get our own brew. Ed, our helicon player, approached the Pot Belly Brewery in Kettering, who were not only very willing to oblige, but let us help with the brewing process, and provided sumptuous hospitality…
Do you see yourselves as able to compete, or perhaps be a part of, the contemporary folk sound of acts like Mumford & Sons or Laura Marling?
We’re nothing to do with, or like them, for better or worse. ‘Folk’ means different things to different listeners, and is often used all too easily as a ready label for acts that use acoustic instruments, dress in a certain way, etc. We may share some audience – I’ve no idea – and we all certainly appear on the flourishing festival scene, but we inhabit separate musical worlds. There’s room for everyone . . .
Are there any modern folk acts who you think will make their mark on the tradition as a whole? Do you think folk should include more modern sounds, or keep within the boundaries of the traditional songbooks?
The scene is full of young and inspired talent, due in part to the hard work put in by many practitioners in order to keep the tradition going, whether that be at performances, session, or in education. It’s always a pleasure to see what the younger generations come up with – they have their own listening experiences and influences and it’s only right that these should affect their interpretations of traditional material – tradition has to move forward to keep alive. And anyway, there is no ‘proper’ way of performing folk music, not that we know how it was done before the advent of recorded sound. Bellowhead likes to think it is part of that ongoing creative process, whether by incorporating more recent songs such as Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’, or infusing old songs with contemporary sounds.
Bellowhead’s latest album, Hedonism, is out now and well worth a purchase. Tomorrow sees the band embark on a nineteen-date tour that will see the band stop off at, amongst others, the Shepherds Bush Empire in London.