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Bellowhead – Broadside (Review)

Bellowhead, Broadside

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

THREE albums in and Bellowhead continue to get bigger and more ambitious! Broadside is a folk-rock opera that is steeped in the values this band hold so dear.

That is to say, folks songs that conform to genre tradition initially but which then get turned upside down and inside out and which arrive packed with the drama and theatre, instrumental virtuosity, verve, humour and blind cheek that is rapidly becoming synonymous with the band.

Produced by John Leckie (ex of Stone Roses and Radiohead fame), this album also combines the commercial nous associated with such a big name producer with the smart story-telling that Bellowhead have made something of a trademark.

Betsy Baker, for instance, is a vigorous tale of unrequited love that is rife with bouncing melodies and celebratory brass arrangements, while Black Beetle Pies is a gruesome romp that Sweeney Todd would be proud of… but which has a revelry to it that combines shades of Madness (especially midway through in the way it’s sung). It could also grace a West End stage production given its sense of the theatrical.

Thousands or More opens like a Christmas carol gathering before suddenly unleashing the fiddles for a joyous dance with the song’s percussion elements, while keeping in mind that the song is a Copper Family classic.

Dockside Rant contains some similarly jiggy fiddle work and could well be a new theme tune to accompany the endeavours of Captain Jack Sparrow, while the sounds of the ocean return for the rocking sea shanty Go My Way, which brings the album to a close in fun, fleet-footed and exceedingly merry fashion.

Evidence of Bellowhead’s unbridled enthusiasm and grandiose ambition is further evident on Lillibulero, a satirical song set to a tune attributed to Henry Purcell. However, it also throws in storming vocals, catchy sing-along harmonies, blitzing percussion, rampaging strings and mad, bad brass to create something that eventually errs towards the operatic. If your feet remain still by the end of this song, you should probably check your pulse whether you’re a fan of folk or not.

Indeed, one of Bellowhead’s strengths is their ability to transcend the genre they love. For while rooted in classic folk values, there’s an infectious energy to their delivery that somehow whisks you along in spite of any reservations.

Admittedly, in some of their more bonkers moments they’re an acquired taste. But it’s what makes them so unique and distinguishable too… and so difficult to resist when they’re at their best, even going so far as to out-Queen the late Freddie Mercury!

Further highlights come in the form of the The Wife of Usher’s Well (their Bohemian Rhapsody moment), Byker Hill (their take on the Northumbrian mining song) and the playful Old Dun Cow, in which the brass really gets a fun workout.

Put together, it’s a giddy romp – sometimes inspired, sometimes admittedly bizarre, constantly evolving and more often than not delightful.

Download picks: Byker Hill, 10,000 Miles Away, Thousands or More, The Wife of Usher’s Well, Lillibulero, Go My Way

Track listing:

  1. Byker Hill
  2. Old Dun Cow
  3. Roll The Woodpile Down
  4. 10,000 Miles Away
  5. Betsy Baker
  6. Black Beetle Pies
  7. Thousands or More
  8. Dockside Rant
  9. The Wife of Usher’s Well
  10. What’s The Life of a Man
  11. Lillibulero
  12. Go My Way